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Bible Commentaries

L. M. Grant's Commentary on the Bible
Matthew 16

 

 

Verses 1-28

The enmity against the true Messiah increases now to the point of Pharisee's and Sadducee's (usually hostile to each other) conspiring together to tempt Him, in an effort to trap Him in some way. Both saw their hold over the people weakening through the transparent honesty of His teaching. They demand that He would show them a sign from heaven; for they had blinded themselves to the fact of His multiplying the loaves and fishes on two occasions, and to what was involved in His many other miracles, for every healing was a sign also.

He therefore speaks to them of what they observed naturally day by day, in order to expose to them their hypocrisy. They had no difficulty in forecasting the next day's weather when they observed the evening sky. As to natural things they read the signs easily. Yet, though they professed to be 1srael's spiritual leaders, and were surrounded by many spiritual signs of the times, they still asked Him for a sign! As well as His miracles of grace and power being signs, the moral condition of the people was a sign; and a most striking sign was the spiritual stagnation and enmity of Israel's leaders! The state of their hearts would certainly not be changed if, for instance, He brought sudden fire from heaven and consumed their synagogue!

He tells them rather that a wicked and adulterous generation sought a sign. Sadducees were specially characterized by wickedness in their doctrine; Pharisees by adulterous unfaithfulness to the truth they professed. The only sign that would be given them was that of Jonah the prophet, his three days and three nights in the belly of the fish typifying the death and resurrection of Christ. What a sign indeed! Yet Pharisees and Sadducees even then united in fighting against it. He leaves them to their empty thoughts.

If in Pharisees and Sadducees we have seen gross unbelief, now we see that the disciples themselves are afflicted by some measure Of this same disease. Having forgotten to take bread with them, they felt that the Lord's reference to leaven is an indirect hint that He was displeased by their neglect. While He was concerned for their spiritual welfare, they virtually accused Him of complaining because of lack of materiel food! How important it s for us at all times to take deeply to heart the truth of God's word, rather than to suspect the motives of the servant through whom God sends it to us.

The leaven of the Pharisees was hypocrisy, which stems from their not taking vitally to heart what they professed to believe, but the disciples show evidence of this very thing by their response. The leaven of the Sadducees was the false doctrine of rationalistic thoughts. The disciples, by their rationalizing, Missed the truth the Lord sought to impress on them. Their very response to Him showed how deeply they needed the warning of His words. Is our need any less than theirs?

His reminder then is necessary as to the simplicity with which He multiplied the loaves and fishes on two occasions, and the abundance left over. Had they forgotten this so soon? Necessary food was a simple thing for Him to care for; but it was no simple matter for them to rightly discern and beware of the corrupting influence of the doctrine of the Pharisees and of the Sadducees.

Verse 13 now initiates a deeply important subject, based upon a mere important foundation. In the far north of the land the Lord Jesus asks His disciples of men's opinion as to who He, the Son of Man, was. This is the foundation of all blessing, whether in the assembly or in the kingdom. The answers show the mere fleshly speculation that influenced men generally. They only reason that a great prophet like this must be the re-incarnation of a former prophet, as though God must resort to duplication, as man does. But how pathetic was the ignorance of those who said He was John the Baptist, for John had been contemporary with the Lord Jesus for many years, and both had been seen together (Matthew 3:13-17). Also when God spoke in Malachi 4:5 of sending Elijah the prophet, there was no reason to suppose that this must be literally the same man, as though God would return him to earth to suffer again after having rewarded him with the joys of heaven. Luke 1:17 explains the sense in Which this is to be understood, when speaking of John the Baptist going before the Lord Jesus "In the spirit and power of Elias." John was the same type of prophet as was Elijah.

A question of real importance, however, is now addressed to the disciples, "Whom say ye that I am?" There is no hesitation in the precious answer of Peter, "Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God." Both the Messiahship and the deity of Christ are clearly confessed by one who can speak for every true child of faith. "Son of the living God" implies that God is not a mere duplicator, but characterized by living power in all His works, and in Christ this living power is perfectly manifested. The Lord's response to this is precious too. Peter was deeply blessed because he had received this truth as a revelation from the Father, not from any human source. The unquestioning conviction with which he spoke was evidence of this. Indeed, no-one lays hold of this truth in reality apart from the Father's revealing it to him (Ch.11:25-27).

Yet, though He first called him "Simon-BarJona" (son of Jonah), which is his name by natural birth, He adds, "thou art Peter," his name by new birth (John 1:42), which means "a stone." Peter had confessed Christ's name. The Lord Jesus in turn Confessed Peter's name as being linked with Him. Christ is the Rock, but Peter is a stone, small indeed, but of the some character as the rock.

In verse 18 the Lord communicates to Peter a marvellous revelation. "an this Rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it." The rock is the truth of Christ's eternal deity, which Peter confessed; for "God--is the Rock" (Deuteronomy 32:3-4). Christ is the only foundation of the church, the assembly (1 Corinthians 3:11), for He is Son of God. Clearly, the assembly was future when He spoke this, "I will build my assembly." The beginning of this building is seen in the book of Acts (See Ch.2:47). Peter himself was a stone built upon the rock (Christ), and he speak of all believers as "living stones--built up a spiritual house, an holy priesthood" (1 Peter 2:5).

"The gates of hades shall not prevail against it." Hades is the unseen condition of the soul and spirit when separated from the body. Throughout history, no matter how many were to die (martyred or otherwise) this would not prevail over the continuance of the assembly. As a testimony on earth she will remain until the coming of the Lord to rapture her to glory. Nor will believers who die be deprived of their place in the assembly: at the time they will be raised and be caught up together with the living saints to be forever with the Lord.

Verse18 is therefore totally the words of the Son of God in building and maintaining His church. Verse 19 adds a matter that is committed to Peter. The Lord would give to him the keys of the kingdom of heaven. These are certainly not the keys of heaven itself, nor the keys of the assembly. The kingdom of heaven is the sphere of Christian profession on earth, a kingdom on earth but with its headquarters in heaven. The keys of course are used to allow entry Luke 12:52 shows one of these keys to be that of knowledge, that is, the teaching of the truth of God. In Matthew 28:19-20 baptism is connected with teaching, and it appears clear that these two are the keys to which the Lord refers, specially since Peter and the other apostles were sent to baptize, though Paul was not (1 Corinthians 1:17), and in fact Jesus Himself did not baptize (John 4:2). In Acts 3:14-26 Peter used both of these keys in declaring the truth to the Jews, and insisting on baptism, with three thousand baptized on the day of Pentecost. He used the same keys with Gentiles in Acts 10:34-48. However, though Peter was prominent in these cases, there is no doubt that others also were entrusted with the same keys (See Acts 8:12; Acts 9:17-18).

As to binding and losing; losing is seen in baptizing, for this involves the public governmental forgiveness of sins (Acts 2:38), but binding is seen in Acts 8:18-23, when the forgiveness of Simon the sorcerer was rescinded by Peter when Simon exposed his actual unrepentant condition. Peter told him then that he had neither part nor lot in this matter, for he had manifested his own hypocrisy. Such righteous action by Peter and other apostles was ratified in heaven.

In verse 20 He charged His disciples to tell no-one that He was the Christ. For He had not come to establish His kingdom as the Messiah of Israel: He was leaving His kingdom rather (in a mystery form) in the hands of men for the time, He Himself accepting the Place of suffering and rejection, as He insists in verse 21. He Must at Jerusalem suffer many things from the elders (man's authority), the chief priests (man's religion), and the scribes (man's wisdom), and be killed. But he does not leave matters there: He adds, "and be raised again the third day."

Peter evidently totally missed hearing His last words as to His resurrection. The marvel of this ought to have deeply impressed him; but instead he dared to rebuke the Lord of glory, telling Him that He would surely not experience anything like this. We speak too easily Without thinking!

Peter's ill-advised rebuke of the Lord Jesus required the stern, solemn rebuke of the Lord to him, "Get thee behind me, Satan: thou art an offence unto me: for thou severest not the things that be of God, but those that be of men." Peter, through a false effort to flatter the Lord, allowed Satan to speak through him. Why did he not rather believe the words of Him who cannot lie? Our only real protection from Satanic deception is in the implicit faith that believes the word of God. But Peter had missed God's thoughts entirely, and expressed the mere natural thoughts of unregenerate men. To deny that Christ would die is to deny that He would rise again, yet both were clearly declared in the Old Testament, emphatically so in Isaiah 53:1-12.

Verse 24 then is specially significant for Peter and every follower of the Lord. To be a true disciple one must deny himself (including his mere natural thoughts), take up his cross, and follow the Lord Jesus. The denial here is not merely denying oneself certain things, but denying himself. Self is set aside by the application of the cross, which cuts out by the roots all that is merely of the natural man. Only this is true devotedness: Christ must take the place of Self.

If one would save his life (that is, if he would give his life in this world a prime place), he would only lose it: such a pursuit is futile. But one who will lose his life for Christ's sake will find it. If he puts Christ first, it may seem that he is forfeiting his life so far as natural advantage is concerned, but his life will issue in lasting fruitfulness. Selfishness will defeat its own ends, while unselfishness for Christ's sake will gain far more than is given up.

Many have gained tremendous wealth, yet where is the eternal profit? In fact, many of these have been left in abject misery at the end of their lives, to reflect on the sad folly of a life of self-seeking with no regard for the eternal welfare of the soul. Can one then give all his wealth in exchange for his soul? In this matter, his wealth is nothing, though he had gained the whole world.

For the Son of Man will come in the glory of His Father to take rightful possession of all the earth, to dispossess those who think it belongs to them, and to reward every man (saved or unsaved) according to his works. This of course is not His coming for the church, but His coming in power at the end of the tribulation. To impress upon them the reality of the fact of the coming kingdom, He adds that some standing there would not taste of death till having seen the Son of Man coming in His kingdom.

Only "some" were to be given this privilege, that is, Peter, James and John, who were given a precious preview of the kingdom in Ch.17:13. For though the Lord insists that suffering must come first, He wants none to be discouraged, but all to have utter confidence in the prospect of His coming in majestic glory.

 


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Bibliography Information
Grant, L. M. "Commentary on Matthew 16:4". L.M. Grant's Commentary on the Bible. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/lmg/matthew-16.html. 1897-1910.

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Friday, May 24th, 2019
the Fifth Week after Easter
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