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Bible Commentaries
Matthew 16

Whedon's Commentary on the BibleWhedon's Commentary

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Verse 1

§ 70. A SIGN AGAIN ASKED, Matthew 16:1-12 .

1. The Pharisees also with the Sadducees These two sects were hostile to each other, but could be friends in order to resist the Saviour in concert. On this occasion they repeated the demand for a sign made on more than one occasion. See notes on Matthew 12:38-40.

Tempting… him Inasmuch as our Lord refused the sign formerly demanded, they now try again the same experiment. If he complies with their demands he will be such a Messiah as they desire. If he does not, they have an argument against him. From heaven As being less likely to be a magical or juggling performance than a terrestrial miracle. Alford says: “In the Jewish superstition it was held that demons and false gods could give signs on earth, but only the true God from heaven.”

Signs in the skies indeed there were. At his birth was the star. The angels announced from the skies his nativity. The dove from the skies descended upon him. Voices from heaven at different times acknowledged him Son of God. Finally, at his crucifixion darkness at midday and earthquake gave witness to him.

At a later date in Jewish history (about the year 136) a false messiah came and undertook to be just such a messiah as the Jews desired. He called himself Bar Cochevas, or son of a star, from the star prophesied by Balaam. He performed signs by legerdemain, gained thousands of followers, among whom were three of the greatest of rabbis. He raised an insurrection against the Roman government, and terrible slaughters ensued. After one of the most sanguinary wars in history, the rebellion was subdued in the blood of the impostor and his deluded followers.

It is a bloody messiah like this whose sign these Pharisees wished to see appear in the heavens. Miracles of mercy, sermons and parables, forgiveness of sin and reformation of life, were matters for which they had no taste. To have granted their request would have been to concede their notion.

Verses 2-5

2-5. Our Lord, in his answer, endeavours to reveal to these Jews their own gross state of mind. They can appreciate, to be sure, physical and glaring signs in the heavens. But there is a higher moral heavens, in which God hangs out his spiritual tokens, to which they are blind.

Verse 3

3. Red The evening and the morning redness betokened opposite things, fair weather and foul. The visible sky has signs they can read. Hypocrites Who pretend that it is only for want of proper evidence that you do not believe my mission, when one half the sagacity you use in regard to the weather would, with an honest heart, convince you that a greater than Jonah is here. There would be less skepticism if men’s hearts were as pure as the evidences of religion are clear. Signs of the times The evident approaches of the fulfilment of prophecy, and the tokens that society is going to destruction without a moral reformation, were the sad signs of these times. Were not Daniel’s seventy weeks of years drawing to a close, at which time the Messiah was to appear? Was not the sceptre departing from Judah, at which time their predicted Shiloh was to come? Had not the harbinger of the Messiah appeared and awakened them all with his warnings? Were there no recollections how Herod, alarmed by a sign from the sky, summoned the Sanhedrim to inform him of the place of Messiah’s birth? Was there not a general presentiment prevalent, through the East that the great One was about to appear? Was there not now One who was, by their recorded pedigrees, of the line of David, proving by miracles that he was the Messiah of prophecy? Had they not themselves confessed that his miracles were such as no power less than the highest spiritual agent could perform?

Verse 4

4. Sign of the prophet Jonas Our Lord here briefly refers them to his previous illustration of their request. Briefly, because they doubtless knew its farther exposition as previously given. Departed Our Lord knew that their temper was now of the hostile and treacherous kind; and as he went to Tyre and Sidon to avoid their treachery in chapter 15, and thence to Decapolis to elude Herod, so now he evades these men by a rapid departure. Indeed, his movements through these two or three chapters are rapid, and distant from the seat of government, as if aware that the eye of the authorities of Herod Antipas was upon him. This debate took place at Magdala or thereabouts. Matthew 15:39. It is implied by the word departed that he left that place and again crossed the lake to the east side; and his next named locality is Bethsaida Julias. Note on Matthew 16:13.

Verse 5

5. Disciples were come to the other side Our Lord had already gone to the other side. He had now passed again from the government of Herod Antipas to that of Herod Philip.

Verse 6

6. Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees The disciples doubtless were often exposed to the influence of the conversations of the Pharisees and Sadducees when our Lord was not present. In Matthew 15:12-20, they had evidently come to our Lord under the influence of such a conversation. Our Lord’s refusal to grant a sign at their demand, as well as his departure, gave perhaps an air of victory to these cavillers.

Verse 7

7. Because we have taken no bread The uneasiness of the disciples at their oversight in not taking bread confused their minds and filled their thoughts, so that they had no expectation of the Lord’s figurative meaning. This is not strange. They have a material bread to take care of; and the allegorical language of our Lord might easily take them unawares. Besides, as there has been very lately a severe contest between the Pharisees and our Lord, who knows what treachery the sellers of bread among the Pharisees may be guilty of? Perhaps our Lord may be warning us against a poison in the leaven.

Verse 8

8. O ye of little faith By the grossness of their mistake our Lord intends to impress the lesson on their minds.

Verse 9

9. Five thousand Our Lord reminds them of the miracles of bread to show that his thoughts were not obliged to be resting on natural supplies of bread.

Verse 10

10. Four thousand It is plain, from the references in these two verses to the miracles of feeding both the four thousand and the five thousand, that they were intended to be narrated as two independent transactions.

Verse 12

12. Doctrine of the Pharisees and of the Sadducees Their rejection of His miracles, their ascription of His mighty power to Satan, and their cavilling demands for a sign from heaven. These principles were very likely to infect the minds of the disciples with scepticism.

Verse 13

13. When Jesus came Jesus was now on the southeastern side of Lake Gennesaret. He moves, on the east side, northward, and at Bethsaida Julias cures a stammerer. (Mark 8:22-26.) Thence he moves up along the banks of the narrowing and rapid Jordan, toward its sources at the northeastern corner of the Holy Land. He passes Lake Merom, a scene of ancient battle, and arrives in the vicinity of Cesarea Philippi, the most northerly point, probably, at which he ever touched.

Cesarea Philippi stood upon the side of Mount Panium, from whose cliff the Jordan has its northeastern spring. The rock of this cliff was surmounted by a temple built in honour of Augustus Cesar. The ancient name of this city was Paneas, so called as being on or near ground sacred to the pagan deity Pan. It was not, as some say, identical with the ancient Laish, which, in fact, had its site four miles distant, and is now called El Kady. It was rebuilt by Herod Philip, and named Cesarea by him, in honour of the patron from whom he received his government, Tiberius Cesar. It was called Cesarea Philippi, or Philip’s Cesarea, to distinguish it from Cesarea Palestina, which stood upon the Mediterranean shore. It was afterward named Neronias in honour of the cruel emperor Nero; but in due time both these names were disused, and its old name, softened into Banias, remains to the present day.

Coasts Territories. See note on Matthew 2:16.

The region about Cesarea Philippi was then rich and populous, and is now celebrated by travellers for its surpassing beauty. Stanley thus describes his approach to the mountain on whose side the town was built: “Over a carpet of turf, through trees of every variety of foliage, through park-like verdure, which casts a strangely beautiful interest over this last recess of Palestine, the pathway winds, and the snowy top of the mountain itself is gradually shut out from view by its increasing nearness. There is the rush of waters through deep thickets; and the ruins of an ancient town, not Canaanite but Roman, rise on the hill side; in its situation, in its exuberance of water, its olive groves, and its view over the distant plain,” almost an Italian Tivoli in the recesses of Syria. Banias is now a Mohammedan town of some twenty huts, but the circuit of the ancient walls is easily distinguished.

It does not appear that our Lord really entered the city of Cesarea Philippi. That city was a favourite residence of Herod Philip; and that prince may at that time have been within it. Mark says that Jesus went into the towns of Cesarea Philippi; that is, its adjacent dependent villages.

Whom? Our Lord now proceeds to lead forth the confession which is to form the basis of their apostolic character as the foundation of the new Church after his departure. There were in the apostolic history three stages. The first was that following their call, the second was after their trial mission, and the third after this inauguration. In the first stage they start with a simple faith in his Messiahship, without any very definite idea in what his Messiahship is to consist. In the second stage, they have, under the attacks of the enemies of Jesus, many a wavering doubt; and it is not until the present time that our Lord, who knows what is in man, perceives that they have a hardihood of faith that can stand the shock of his death, and maintain, firmly as so many rocks, when aided by the Pentecostal Spirit, the foundation of the Christian faith. As that time has now come, he proceeds to draw forth a full profession of that faith, and appoints them to be the apostolic rocks of the new dispensation.

Whom do men say What is the result of my ministry? What saith the world, that has heard my words and seen my works, in regard to my nature?

Son of man Our Lord’s usual designation of himself, and usual with none but him. The question could, therefore, be not much different from asking, Whom do men say that I, Jesus, am?

Verses 13-19


Our Saviour’s ministry has now drawn to its zenith. He has exhibited his character and laid his lessons before his disciples. He has trained them so that while the rest of the world is in wonder and doubt about him, expressing its various conjectures, they will be ready to confess him clearly and solidly to be the Christ. He has so impressed upon their minds his history and doctrine, that when he shall leave them, under the aid of the pentecostal spirit they will be able to found his kingdom and Church on earth. He now proceeds after solemn prayer to assemble them together and in a formal manner to require the common profession of faith; to lay them as a foundation for his Church, of which himself was the ground; to promise them the victory over the powers of hell; and to give them the apostolic keys by which, endowed with power from on high, they should be able to open and shut the doors of the Church, in such a way as should be ratified in heaven. After that, he dares fully open before them the prospect of his death and sufferings.

This, the opening of the SIXTH PERIOD, must therefore be considered as a most important turning point in our Lord’s history. Thenceforward his is a Ministry of Sorrow. See Historical Synopsis.

Verse 14

14. Some say They might have said, Some say thou art the agent of Beelzebub. But none but the few malignant Pharisees said that; and they could not indoctrinate the people with so dark a calumny. On the heart of the masses Jesus had at least left a reverent impression of himself.

Jeremias This prophet was held by the Jews to be the greatest of the prophetic class.

Verse 15

15. Whom say ye Now comes the important question for which the whole occasion is appointed. Observe, the question is put to them all and not to Peter alone. It is, “Whom say YE?” not whom sayest thou? The disciples as an entire body have, thus far, been concerned. As this question is put to them all, of course the answerer, Peter, is simply the spokesman or representative of them all. He is the foreman of the jury, who answers the Judge and pronounces the verdict for all the rest; and he receives an investiture from Christ for them all. See note on Matthew 4:18.

Verse 16

16. Simon Peter answered As the senior apostle, and so, on the present occasion, the representative of the whole. This supposes a prominence, but not the primacy over the rest.

The Christ The Messiah. Son not merely of man but of God. The living God is the source of all existence and life.

Verse 17

17. Blessed art thou Highest of blessings, to be the confessor and apostle of the Son of God. Bar-jonah Son of Jonah. Spoken simply as a matter of solemn emphasis. Flesh and blood Mere frail humanity, whether of himself or others. Our Lord had already thanked his Father that while he hid these things from the wise and prudent he had revealed them unto babes. See note on Matthew 11:25. No wisdom of man, therefore, but the guidance of God, had made him an apostle and revealed the Messiah to him.

Verse 18

18. Thou art Peter With thy renewed apostleship (for it is indeed a new one) I give thee a renewed name. As Peter signifies stone, and as thou and thy fellow-disciples are to be the foundation stones of my new Church, I name thee forever by that symbolical title of Peter, that is, stone. Upon this rock The material of which thou art composed, as the apostolic foundation stone. In the Syriac language, in which our Lord spoke, the word Peter and this word rock were doubtless the same word. But they were all as truly stones, and made of rock, as he. But as he alone spoke the verbal confession, so to him alone was addressed and belonged the verbal title which commemorated it. Indeed, they are expressly called stones, (Ephesians 2:20; Revelation 21:14,) though the word in the original, lithos, is a different without being a less expressive word than Petros.

The expression, this rock upon which I will build my Church, has received very different interpretations from the doctors of the Church in various ages. The first is the construction given by the Church of Rome, and made the basis of the enormous imposture of the papacy. It affirms that the rock is Peter individually, that the commission constituted him supreme apostle, with authority, inherited from him by the bishops of Rome. But 1 . As may be shown, not Peter alone, but each apostle, was a rock and a recipient of the keys, and all were coequal in powers. 2. Were the authority conveyed to Peter alone and personally, it must still be shown that this personal prerogative was among the successional attributes conferred upon him. 3. That Peter was ever bishop of Rome is without historical foundation; and the pretense of a succession from him by the Romish bishop is a fable.

Some have made the word rock designate Christ himself. They hold it to be derogatory to Christ’s dignity for there to be any other foundation stone of his Church than Christ himself. They hold that our Lord said: Thou art Peter, a stone, and upon this rock (pointing perhaps to himself) I will build my Church. But this is inconsistent with the laws of a natural interpretation. Others understand that the confession which Peter made was a rock. Thou art a stone, and upon this rock of truth which thou hast confessed, and upon this faith which thou hast professed, will I build my Church. But Biblical language always holds men, not truths, to be foundation stones. The rock is not the doctrine, nor the confession, but the confessor.

I understand that it is the apostle himself who is the rock; yet not as a man, nor as a private confessor of the Saviour’s Messiahship, nor as Lord of the apostolic twelve, but as a specimen and representative of what all the twelve were. For the Church is said by this same Peter (no doubt in allusion to this celebrated passage) to be built on the foundation of the prophets and apostles, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone. It is plain that the question which Peter answered was put to the whole twelve, and that he confessed for the whole twelve, and that the keys which are given in the nineteenth verse were given to the whole, (xviii, 18.) They were all Peters, or stones of the foundation, as well as he; only he, being the front stone of the pile, bore the inscription of the name of Peter, which essentially belonged to all. This image of a rock, as Stanley remarks, may have been suggested by the rock above the town, upon which stood the temple of Cesar Augustus. It is a limestone cliff, some eighty feet high, and from beneath it the streams of the Jordan issue.

Gates The warlike habits of ancient nations required that all great cities should be girt with massy walls, able to resist the enginery of assault then in use. And as the gates would be special points of attack, they were fortified so as to be specially impregnable. And as through the gates the whole city went in and out, there were always the concourse and the crowd. There men resorted for news, for marketing, and for proclamations. The gates became structures with chambers, in which courts were held, legislation was performed, and negotiations with foreign nations transacted. Hence the word gate became a symbol of power and of empire. The gates of death, the gates of hell, were the powers of death or hell.

Hell, here, is in the original Hades. The word properly signifies the invisible state or place of departed spirits, both of the righteous and the wicked. In this sense it is opposed or antithetical to the state of the living. But in a stricter or more usual sense it stands opposed to paradise, and signifies the abode of the departed wicked, for which we have no other English word than hell. The gates of hell are therefore the infernal powers, who from their invisible stronghold manifest their visible hostility. The rock-built Church and the gates of hades are thence two opposing potencies. Shall not prevail Shall not overpower. The battle may waver long and fearfully, but the rock-built fortress shall finally prove victorious.

Verse 19

19. Keys The Church is as a fortress, or rather temple, built upon these twelve stones; and the temple has keys. The authority over the whole is conferred upon Peter, and through him on all the apostles, by bestowing upon him and them the keys. This is according to an ancient custom of surrendering the government of a city or fortress by yielding the keys. The ancient Oriental key usually bore not much resemblance to the artistic little metallic instrument which we mean by the word, and which Italian painters pictured in Peter’s hands. It was a wooden apparatus, which would heavily lade a man’s arm. Hence the language in Isaiah 22:22, which is a suitable parallel to these words of our Lord: “The key of the house of David will I lay upon his shoulder; so he shall open and none shall shut; and he shall shut and none shall open. Bind… loose These words, perhaps, carry out the image of the keys. Doors and gates were in ancient times often fastened by tying instead of locking. Our Lord therefore here confers upon the twelve an inspired and miraculous authority and power to found and to govern his Church after his resurrection, by decisions which should be ratified in heaven. Yet the rabbins used the words binding and loosing, to signify affirming or denying a point of the law.

There is no proof whatever that this miraculous power of these twelve apostles ever descended to any successors. As ministers and preachers they have many successors; as apostles, none. Such was the inauguration of his apostolic college by our Saviour preparatory to his departure from the world. Having found them rocks in faith, he makes them foundation rocks of his kingdom. He is now prepared to open a new chapter of his own history. He is not to be a conquering Messiah, as even yet they may be imagining, but a suffering Messiah! He has given them a kingdom, but he is now himself to die.

Verse 20

§ 74. Predictions Of His Own Sufferings And Ultimate Coming To Judge The World, Matthew 16:20-28 .

20. Tell no man… the Christ At this difficult juncture none but himself could properly preach the Messiahship. See note on Matthew 17:9.

Verse 21

21. From that time forth The Ministry of sorrow now commences. His apostolic rocks are firm enough now to bear the full announcement of those woes which had heretofore been but obscurely intimated.

Must go unto Jerusalem Matthew’s history has, thus far, scarce once found our Lord at Jerusalem. His is almost exclusively a Galilean gospel. But though the Saviour has mostly laboured in Galilee, he must suffer at Jerusalem; and thence the preaching of his name must properly go forth. There is the site of the Old Testament theocracy. There have the sacrifices of the law, and the blood of the Old Testament atonements, shown forth his death for ages. And from there, the royal city of David, must go forth an announcement of the kingdom of the son of David to all the world.

Verse 22

22. Peter took him Took him perhaps aside from the apostles for expostulation. Officiously affectionate, he will set our Lord right, and banish this dismal conception of death instead of royalty.

Be it far from thee, Lord Be corrected, dear Lord. We were just talking of a kingdom, and now thou talkest of a cross.

Verse 23

23. Get thee behind me, Satan Our Lord seems to call Peter Satan. Not quite so. But he recognizes a Satan speaking in the words that Peter utters. His own human nature would say, like Peter, “Far be the terrible suffering from thee.” The same Satan had once tempted him in his own person to fall down and worship him, in order to gain the whole world; and that same Satan seems now to speak in Peter’s voice. As he repelled Satan then, so he repels the same devil now that seconds Peter’s words. An offence A snare. See note on Matthew 18:7. Those that be of men Is there not something prophetic in these words? The Church of Rome has claimed that her supremacy was predicted in the rock and the keys. But is it not the ambitious Peter who would have the kingdom without the cross, and who spake the things of man and not of God, which is the type of ambitious Rome?

Verse 24

24. If any man will come after me As a disciple following his master. Take up his cross See note on Matthew 10:38. Follow me As a suffering servant of a suffering Lord.

Verses 24-28

24-28. It is a key to the interpretation of the four remaining verses of this paragraph, (which commentators have generally missed,) that the kingdom of Matthew 16:28 is the kingdom of Matthew 16:19. The meaning of the entire paragraph then is plain. This kingdom, now conferred under emblems of keys and binding and loosing, is a kingdom of suffering as well as of power. It is to be brought in by endurances and crosses for his sake as king, and under him as our final judge and rewarder at the judgment day, (Matthew 16:28;) in order that he may come at his resurrection and establish on earth (Matthew 16:28) his kingdom of grace “with power.” So that Matthew 16:27-28 refer to very different events.

Verse 25

25. Save his life… lose. See note on Matthew 10:39. The present paragraph, indeed, is in general a reiteration of the substance of that chapter apostolic suffering, in view of a future reward, in order that Christ’s kingdom may be established in the earth.

Verse 26

26. Gain the whole world, and lose his own soul As Peter, in his preference for a worldly monarchy, would in fact do, and even persuade Jesus to do.

Verse 27

27. For This particle shows that the verse which it introduces explains and enforces the consideration of the previous verses. To save one’s life to gain the world with the loss of the soul, is a bad bargain, for the judgment day is coming. Shall come From heaven at the end of the world. In the glory of his Father… angels The same words describe the scenic splendour of his judgment advent in Matthew 24:31. Reward For every suffering there shall then be a compensation. In view of this reward at the judgment day, they were to toil and suffer for the consummation (described in the next verse) of Christ’s kingdom on earth.

Verse 28

28. Verily I say The accomplishment of the enterprise for which they toil and earn a martyr’s reward is now stated. Son of man coming Is parallel with Matthew 10:23; both are fulfilled at Christ’s resurrection. As the Son of man would be come before the apostles had gone over the cities of Israel, so these same apostles standing here should see the Son of man coming. Some standing here would refer to the eleven apostles, excluding Judas, who did not behold Christ in his resurrection power.

These eleven were only some, not all, of those standing here; for it appears by Mark 8:34, that Jesus had called the people to be present at this discourse with his disciples. The declaration that they should see the Son of man at that time is too plainly literal for any fulfilment at the destruction of Jerusalem.

Instead of the phrase “Son of man coming in his kingdom,” Saint Mark has, (Matthew 9:1:) “Until they have seen the kingdom of God come with power.” Luke has: “Until they see the kingdom of God.” We may fairly suppose that our Lord used the expressions given both by Matthew and Mark, which include that of Luke. It would then be that some there standing should not taste of death until they see the Son of man coming in his kingdom; and the kingdom itself come with power. These two phrases express the commencing and continuative points of the same thing. The coming in his kingdom was at his resurrection; the coming of the kingdom of God with power was the consequent miraculous establishment of Christianity on earth. The latest surviving apostles saw both of these before their death. Our Lord’s “coming in his kingdom,” was when he came from Paradise to resume his body, now glorified, and was invested, as prophetically seen by Daniel, (Daniel 7:13-14,) with “a kingdom, that all people, nations, and languages should serve him.” He then declared that “ALL POWER” was given into his hands, and commissioned his disciples to go and disciple all nations. The keys of the kingdom of heaven were put into their hands, and they were to open the doors to the believers of all peoples. Compare on Matthew 28:18.

It has been objected that the “phrase shall not taste of death until,” implies a considerable distance of time. This objection is correct, and it refutes the application of the passage, which some commentators have made, to the transfiguration, and even its exclusive application to the resurrection of the Lord. But of the whole then present, including the people, none but the eleven disciples saw the resurrection, which was the Son of man coming in his kingdom; and some of these same eleven lived until they saw the kingdom of God come with power by the complete miraculous establishment of Christianity in the earth, as well as the disappearance of the old dispensation before it. To this interpretation, therefore, of both phrases taken together, the implied length of time is no objection.

Bibliographical Information
Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on Matthew 16". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/whe/matthew-16.html. 1874-1909.
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