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Bible Commentaries

Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible
Matthew 16

 

 

Verse 1

‘And the Pharisees and Sadducees came, and trying him asked him to show them a sign from heaven.’

The coming together of the Pharisees and the Sadducees (linked by one article) may suggest an ungodly alliance between the Galilean Pharisees and the Sadducees at Herod’s court (Mark 3:6; Mark 8:15), or it may even suggest an even stronger deputation from the Sanhedrin. Either way all are now united against Him. And they have come to finally test Him out.

The same verb is used here as that used of the tempting by Satan in Matthew 4:1. Satan also had suggested the same kind of sign. Perhaps we are intended to see here that Satan is again tempting Jesus through the Pharisees and Sadducees, and that they are his tools (compare John 8:39-44). They thus demand a sign from Heaven. They do not, of course, expect to receive one. They are out to demonstrate that He is a charlatan.


Verse 2-3

‘But he answered and said to them, “When it is evening, you say, ‘It will be fair weather, for the heaven is red’. And in the morning, ‘It will be foul weather today, for the heaven is red and lowering.’ You know how to discern the face of the heaven, but you cannot discern the signs of the times.”

Jesus first replies by pointing out that like all Jews they are able to discern weather signs. A clear red heaven in the evening indicates to them fine weather. A sky that is red and lowering in the morning indicates to them foul weather. Thus they are adept at interpreting such signs. There is perhaps some sarcasm here. They can tell whether the sky is cloudy or not, but they cannot spot the cloudiness in their own thinking.

‘But you cannot discern the signs of the times.’ Those who should be able to recognise the coming of the Messiah in the works that He has done and the words that He has spoken are unable to do so because their minds are clouded.

(We should possibly note that these two verses are omitted in some very important manuscripts (Aleph B f13 etc). They are supported by D W Theta f1 etc. Their omission would not affect the sense in any way, but a possible reason for their omission is that these weather signs were not applicable in such major Christian centres as Alexandria in Egypt where copying often took place. On the other hand there is no really good explanation as to why the words were quite unnecessarily introduced here from an unknown source if they were not genuine. Usually interpolations are explicable in terms of being introduced in order to conform with other passages, or as explanatory comments which were later accidentally incorporated in the text).


Verse 4

“An evil and adulterous generation seeks after a sign, and there will no sign be given to it, but the sign of Jonah.” And he left them, and departed.’

Then He points out what the nature is of those who seek spectacular signs in spiritual matters. They are ‘an evil and adulterous generation’ (compare Matthew 12:39; Matthew 11:16). The seeking after signs, when such wonders have been done before them, is simply evidence of the evil of their hearts. ‘Adulterous’ signifies a generation that is not in close touch with God, and is not truly seeking after God. Their minds are on other things, such as their own teaching and cleverness and self-importance. To such people no sign will be given, because they are unable to discern the true signs. Why, for those ready to see them, did not signs already abound? The problem lay not in Jesus’ unwillingness to give signs, but in their inability to receive them. Those who will not respond to the signs that He has given have revealed themselves as not fit to be given any signs.

Thus the only sign that will be given to them is the sign of the prophet Jonah. Jonah came from the innards of a large fish to successfully evangelise Nineveh. One day they will see the Son of Man arise from the grave, and successfully evangelise the world (see on Matthew 12:38-42).

‘And he left them, and departed.’ The statement indicates their rejection. In Matthew Jesus never ‘leaves’ the crowds. It is only the opposition that He ‘leaves’ in such a way. (He temporarily leaves the disciples when He goes away to pray, but there He does not ‘depart’ - Matthew 26:44).

So the gradual increase of opposition now includes the Sadducees. He has been rejected by the Pharisees (Matthew 9:11; Matthew 9:34; Matthew 12:1-14; Matthew 12:24-32; Matthew 12:38; Matthew 16:1); by Scribes (Matthew 9:3; Matthew 12:38); by many of the common people (Matthew 11:16-19); by the towns of Galilee (Matthew 11:20-24;, by His own countrymen (Matthew 13:53-58); by Herod (Matthew 14:1-12); by the Pharisees and Scribes from Jerusalem (Matthew 15:1); and now by the Sadducees (Matthew 16:1). All that now awaits is His final rejection at Jerusalem.


Verse 5

‘And the disciples came to the other side and forgot to take bread.’

With typical Matthaean abbreviation he sums up the situation in few words. ‘The disciples’ came to the other side and found that they had not taken supplies of ‘kosher’ bread. Jesus is not mentioned simply because He is not involved in the subsequent early discussions. Mark tells us that in fact the discovery was made en route that they had only one loaf, which would not last them long (Mark 8:14). This clearly caused some consternation among them. They had forgotten Jesus’ words about not being anxious about what they should eat (Matthew 6:25-34), and that He had fed crowds in a far worse situation than this. The idea may well be in fact that ‘the disciples’ were trying to hide from Jesus what they were talking about as He sat or lay in the rear of the boat. But if so they could not keep it hidden.


Verses 5-12

The Failure Of The Disciples To Take Kosher Bread with Them When Going To Gentile Territory Raises the Question of ‘The Leaven of the Scribes and Pharisees’ (16:5-12).

Arriving back ‘on the other side’ in Gentile territory, the disciples become aware that they have forgotten to bring ‘kosher’ bread in their provisions baskets. (‘Kosher’ is not strictly the correct word but we signify by it here bread baked by a Jewish baker in accordance with Jewish principles of cleanness and uncleanness). They might have difficulty in finding a Jewish baker in that remote area. Their concern about the situation secretly amuses Jesus in view of what He has done in the past and He warns them rather to be worried about the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees. Thinking that He is talking about literal bread they begin to discuss the matter between themselves, only to be interrupted by Him as He points out that He does not really mean literal bread. Rather He is warning them against the evil and sinister influence of the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees with whom He has just had to do.

Analysis.

· The disciples came to the other side and forgot to take bread, and Jesus said to them, “Take heed and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees” (Matthew 16:5-6).

· And they reasoned among themselves, saying, “We took no bread”. And Jesus perceiving it said, “O you of little faith, why do you reason among yourselves, because you have no bread?” (Matthew 16:7-8).

· “Do you not yet perceive, nor remember the five loaves of the five thousand, and how many baskets you took up? Nor the seven loaves of the four thousand, and how many baskets you took up?” (Matthew 16:9-10).

· “How is it that you do not perceive that I did not speak to you about bread? But beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees” (Matthew 16:11).

· Then they understood that he bade them not to beware of the leaven of bread, but of the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees (Matthew 16:12).

Note that in ‘a’ they were thinking of bread but Jesus told them to beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees, and in the parallel they understand that He is not talking about bread but of the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees. In ‘b’ He questions why they are thinking about bread, and in the parallel asks the same question and goes on to point out that He means the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees. Centrally in ‘c’ He draws their attention to the miracles of provision and their significance.


Verse 6

‘And Jesus said to them, “Take heed and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” ’

Seeing their concern over mere bread (compare Matthew 4:4) Jesus then intervened with a comment which was designed to make them recognise that there was more to worry about than the lack of bread. Let them rather be concerned about the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees, and the threat that it posed. It was that that they should really be concerned about, the insidious teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees which was undermining His ministry and bringing them all under threat, especially their joint teaching about the requirement for ‘signs’ and the implication that He was not the Messiah.


Verse 7

‘And they reasoned among themselves, saying, “We took no bread.” ’

But they misunderstood His words and took them literally. They thought that He also was talking about their having no bread, and so vigorous discussions took place about what they were going to do in order to remedy the situation.

Leaven was the old dough kept back from a previous baking which when put in with the new flour mix ‘leavened’ the whole making it light and airy. Its swift and insidious action was well known. This should have warned them that He was speaking pictorially. For why otherwise should he have spoken of the leaven and not the bread itself? It was bread that they were lacking. Alternatively they might have taken His words as a shorthand expression for leavened bread.


Verse 8

‘And Jesus perceiving it said, “O you of little faith, why do you reason among yourselves, because you have no bread?”

Jesus is concerned both at their anxiety about shortage of bread and at their inability to discern His meaning, for to Him it reveals their little faith (compared with what it should by now have been). But He is especially concerned about their anxiety about lack of physical bread. It betrayed that they did not yet trust their heavenly Father for their daily bread (Matthew 6:25-26; Matthew 6:32).


Verse 9

“Do you not yet perceive, nor remember the five loaves of the five thousand, and how many baskets you took up? Nor the seven loaves of the four thousand, and how many containers you took up?”

So He reminds them how the huge crowds had had no bread, and how the five loaves had become twelve wicker basketfuls, and the seven loaves had become seven hemp containerfuls. (Note again the careful differentiation between the types of basket). In view of those miracles, how could they be worrying about bread, especially when He was present with them? And in view of the significance of that miraculous bread as indicating His teaching, how could they fail to recognise that this too was in His mind?


Verse 11

“How is it that you do not perceive that I did not speak to you about bread? But beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees.”

So he asked them how they could possibly have failed to recognise that He was not literally taking about bread. Rather He was saying, ‘beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees, that is of their harmful counter teaching. The Pharisees and Sadducees differed on many things, but certain things they were agreed on. They did not want to disturb the status quo, they did not believe that He was the Messiah, and they were agreed that if the Messiah came He would perform miraculous and spectacular signs. It is not simply accidental that this will be followed by Peter’s direct confession of Jesus as the Messiah. He has taken to heart Jesus’ words.


Verse 12

‘Then they understood that he bade them not to beware of the leaven of bread, but of the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees.”

So the truth finally dawned on them that He was not warning them against physical bread or bribery, but against what the Pharisees and Sadducees were teaching. Perhaps consideration on that helped to prepare them for the questions that were shortly to come.


Verse 13

‘Now when Jesus came into the parts of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, saying, “Who do men say that the Son of man is?” ’

Once again Jesus is found in Gentile territory, at Caesarea Philippi, north of the Sea of Galilee, in the territory of Herod Philip. And there He calls on His disciples to tell Him Whom men are saying that He is.

Caesarea had been built into a large city by Philip in honour of Augustus Caesar, and called Caesarea Philippi, both in order to distinguish it from the Caesarea on the Mediterranean coast where Cornelius the Roman centurion was converted (Acts 10-11), and as a reminder that Philip had built it. It was situated at the foot of Mount Hermon. On that mountain was a sanctuary to Pan and a Temple for the worship of the emperor in an area well supplied with pagan temples. It was against that background that a small group of people came to the foot of Mount Hermon for a unique purpose.

Note Jesus’ reference to Himself here as the Son of Man, a regular feature in Matthew (compare Matthew 8:20; Matthew 9:6; Matthew 10:23; Matthew 12:8). The other Gospels translate it here as ‘I’ so as not to confuse Gentile readers who had little Jewish background.


Verses 13-20

Peter Openly Confesses That Jesus Is The Messiah (16:13-20).

In Matthew 11:25-27 Jesus had spoken of the fact it was His Father who revealed things to ‘babes’, including the truth about the Son Whom He alone fully knows, and that He Himself as the Son, reveals the Father to whom He wills. Now we are provided with the first prominent example of one who has had revealed to him, by the Father, the truth about the Son.

Challenging His disciples as to how they see Him Peter replies that He is the Messiah, the Son of the living God. The difference between this statement and that in Matthew 14:33 is that this one was more thoughtful and measured. In reply Jesus accepts Peter’s words and unfolds more information about His planned new congregation of Israel, one in which Peter will play a prominent part, especially in its commencement. The very boldness that causes Peter to blurt out the truth, is the same boldness that will lead the way after Pentecost.

But this passage is only the beginning of the revelation of Who Jesus is, for that revelation continues on until Matthew 17:13. Yes, He is the Messiah, the Son of the living God (Matthew 16:16), but He is also the Son of Man Who must suffer (Matthew 16:21), and Who will one day return in glory to call all men to account (Matthew 16:27), having prior to that revealed His Kingship by establishing His Kingly Rule on earth (Matthew 16:28), and He is above all the glorious, beloved Son of the Father (Matthew 17:5), Whose glory is above that of the sun (Matthew 17:2), to Whom both Moses and Elijah give testimony (Matthew 17:1-8).

a Now when Jesus came into the parts of Caesarea Philippi, He asked His disciples, saying, “Who do men say that the Son of man is?” (Matthew 16:13).

b And they said, “Some say John the Baptist; some, Elijah; and others, Jeremiah, or one of the prophets” (Matthew 16:14).

c He says to them, “But who do you say that I am?” (Matthew 16:15).

d And Simon Peter answered and said, “You are the Christ (Messiah), the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:16).

e And Jesus answered and said to him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-jonah, for flesh and blood has not revealed it to you, but my Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 16:17).

d “And I also say to you, that you are Peter.

c “And on this rock I will build my church (congregation/assembly), and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18).

b “I will give to you the keys of the kingly rule of heaven, and whatever you will bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven” (Matthew 16:19).

a Then he charged the disciples that they should tell no man that He was the Christ (Matthew 16:20).

Note that in ‘a’ Jesus asks Who the Son of Man is, and in the parallel tells them not to make it known. This then is the issue that the passage centres on. In ‘b’ are mentioned the great men of the past who have bound and loosed, and opened the truth to men, and in the parallel Peter is to be the same. The former have pointed forward to Jesus as the Coming One, the latter seek to establish on earth His Kingly Rule. In ‘c’ He asks Whom they think He is, and in the parallel describes that fact as being the foundation stone of His new congregation of Israel. In ‘d’ Peter declares that Jesus is the Christ, and in the parallel Jesus declares that he is ‘petros’, the rock-like man. Centrally in ‘e’ is the fact that this has been revealed to Peter by His Father in Heaven.


Verse 14

‘And they said, “Some say John the Baptist; some, Elijah; and others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” ’

Their reply brings out something about Jewish expectations. We already know about the rumour that Jesus was John the Baptist risen from the dead (Matthew 14:2), and it is clear from this that it was quite widespread. Herod believed it out of fear, many, who had been smitten on hearing of his death, believed it out of hope. There was also a great expectation of the return of Elijah, as promised in Malachi 4:5-6, a promise that Jesus saw as fulfilled in the coming of John the Baptist (Matthew 11:14; Matthew 17:10-14, compare Luke 1:17). This made sense to people as in their eyes Elijah had never died (2 Kings 2:11). He had been taken up to Heaven. The Jews still await his coming. And clearly there were also various expectations of the return of Jeremiah or other prophets. The background to these expectations come out in Jewish literature. There were, for example, many tales about Jeremiah, In 2 Esdras 2:18 it was stated ‘for your help I will send my servants Isaiah and Jeremiah.’ In 2 Maccabees 15:14 Judas Maccabaeus received a vision of Onias, a former High Priest, who spoke with a venerable and glorious old man and learned that he was Jeremiah the prophet of God ‘who prays much for the people and the holy city’ and who gave to Judas a golden sword as a gift from God with which to strike his enemies. So it is not surprising that some saw Jesus as a returning Jeremiah, especially in view of His expectation of suffering and subjection to the hatred of the Jewish leaders which was reminiscent of Jeremiah, and possibly also because He was seen as a prophet of doom (e.g. Matthew 11:20-24; Matthew 12:41-42). The expectation of ‘one of the prophets’ demonstrates how expectant the people were that God was going to act. Thus many saw Jesus as an ‘end of the age’ figure. But their beliefs fell short of the reality. Nor did it result in the repentance that alone could have brought them through to the truth.


Verse 15

‘He says to them, “But who do you say that I am?” ’

Then Jesus directly challenges His disciples as to Whom they think He is. They had had plenty of time to make their minds up, and He had in the past given them much to think about. Now He will discover what they have really learned.


Verse 16

‘And Simon Peter answered and said, “You are the Christ (Messiah), the Son of the living God.” ’

As we would expect it is Peter who blurts out a response. The disciples appear to have been quite willing to let him take the lead in such matters, probably due to their own lack of confidence. One thing Peter was not lacking in was self-confidence. It does not, however, mean that they saw him as their leader. They looked on Jesus as their leader. He was simply their spokesman. This is emphatically brought out by the fact that later the Apostles will constantly argue among themeselves about who was the greatest (Mark 9:33-37; Luke 21:24-27; compare Matthew 20:20-28). Had they seen Peter being established here by Jesus as their leader they would not have done that, and all Jesus would have had to point that was what He had Himself decided.

Peter declares, “You are the Christ (Messiah), the Son of the living God.” We need not doubt that this was the opinion of them all, for they would undoubtedly have discussed the matter between themselves. The statement here reveals Him as the Coming One and as something more. There were many views about the Messiah, from that of a military leader who would drive out the Romans, to a great teacher, to a more splendid heavenly figure who would have great powers, and who would do the same but with more of a divine flourish. In the case of Jesus His disciples recognised that there was more to Him than they understood, that somehow He was different from all expectations, and that He had a relationship with the Father that was unique, a relationship in which God spoke of Him as His beloved Son (Matthew 3:17; Matthew 11:25-27). They remembered how He had walked on the sea, stilled the storm and fed the crowds. Then they had acknowledged Him instinctively as ‘the Son of God’ (Matthew 14:33). Now it was a matter of working out what that actually meant. So these words of Peter well expressed something of what they all believed.


Verse 17

‘And Jesus answered and said to him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-jonah, for flesh and blood has not revealed it to you, but my Father who is in heaven.” ’

Jesus then commends Peter for his insight. It is something of an official declaration rather than just a reply, as is demonstrated by His giving him his full name, ‘Simon son of Jonah’. Jonah may have been his father’s name, or alternately it may have been a name that linked him with the prophet Jonah, who was also a ‘confessor of Christ’ by example (Matthew 12:39-41; Matthew 16:4). And He declares that Peter is one to whom His Father has given understanding in accordance with Matthew 11:25-27. It is not something that he has been told by ordinary men, but something that has been revealed to him by God. He is thus one of those whom God has blessed.

‘Blessed are you.’ This is Jesus’ favourite way of indicating that men have received special blessing from God, through Whose gracious working they enjoy the benefit spoken of. Compare on Matthew 5:3-9; Matthew 11:6; Matthew 13:16.

‘Simon, son of Jonah.’ Jesus might here be saying that Peter is in the true line of Jonah who has twice been cited as pointing to Jesus’ uniqueness (Matthew 12:39-41; Matthew 16:4). Jonah had unknowingly testified of Christ, and now Peter was following in his footsteps like a true ‘son’. ‘Son of’ can regularly mean ‘like’, ‘following in the footsteps of’. This would suit the context, ‘You are the son of the living God’ (the source of all life) followed by ‘you are the son of Jonah’ (the one who was miraculously delivered from death) makes a good parallel. Alternately Jonah might have been an alternate name for John (see John 1:42).


Verse 18

“And I also say to you, that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church (congregation/assembly), and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it.”

And He then declares that Peter is the Rock-man, and that on ‘this Rock’, the rock of the words that he has spoken (compare Matthew 7:24 where building on a rock signifies building on Jesus’ words) will be built the new congregation that He has come to establish. Just as each man was to build his own life on the rock of Jesus’ words so now His new congregation was to be built on the foundation of the words, and the truth that lay behind them, of Peter in his confession. And it will be such that the gates of ‘the world of the dead’ (Hades) will not prevail against it. This may signify either that ‘the world of the dead’ will not be able to bring His congregation down to the grave because He has given them life. Death therefore has no power over them. Or it may mean that, if some die, it will be unable to prevent their resurrection. Compare here Isaiah 26:19, ‘the earth shall cast forth her dead’, which only applied to the righteous dead. Thus the grave-world (Sheol, Hades) could hold on to them no longer.

The latter half of His words are thus a picturesque way of saying that His congregation will be so endued with eternal life that nothing will be able to hold it back from its sure destiny. The powers of death will be broken. For them death will have been swallowed up for ever (Isaiah 25:8). Those who truly belong to that congregation will thus be freed from the fear and chains of death. When they have died the gates of the grave-world will be unable to prevent their resurrection (compare the ideas in Isaiah 26:19 and Revelation 1:18). And for others who live until His coming there will be no death (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18; 1 Corinthians 15:52). Death has no power over them. To them the Gates of Hades, which keep in the dead, are irrelevant. Those gates of the grave-world, which once like mighty bastions held in for ever all who had died, will prevail no longer when it comes to the true people of God.

Note that just as ‘You are the Christ’ parallels ‘you are Peter’, so ‘The gates of Hades will not prevail against it’ parallels ‘the Son of the living God’. It is because He is the Lord of life to all who will become true members of His congregation, His new community, that they will thus be freed from the grip and fear of death (compare Hebrews 2:15). The Messianic feast was from the beginning associated with freedom from the fear of death (see Isaiah 25:6-8; Isaiah 26:19), and Jesus here makes clear that it is central to the whole concept of the Messiah.

The interpretation of ‘the rock’ as being ‘the words that Peter had spoken’ was by far the majority view among the early fathers long before Rome tried to claim the words for itself. Of the references by the early fathers over forty held this view, in contrast with eighteen who saw the Rock as Peter, and seventeen who saw the Rock as Christ Himself. Thus those who in the first five hundred years of the early church saw Peter himself as the Rock were very much in the minority (Augustine of Hippo initially did, but later changed his mind and espoused the majority view). This makes rather foolish the suggestion made by some that it is basically a Protestant interpretation to suggest that ‘this rock’ refers to Peter’s words of confession.

And this view is confirmed by the Greek text itself, in that ‘you are petros’ deliberately contrasts with ‘on this petra’, and however the case is argued there can be no doubt that Matthew could have used petros twice had he wished to indicate Peter (we know from external literature that petros was in use for a rock). This is so regardless of what the Aramaic might have been, and the Aramaic can only anyway be the result of guesswork. Besides being outside Jewish territory Jesus may well have spoken in Greek. This play on words in different genders favours the view that whilst a connection is to be made between the two, there is no specific identification, thus indicating Jesus as meaning, ‘You rocklike man, I will use the rock that you have just provided as the foundation of My new community’. For words being seen as such a foundation see Matthew 7:25 and 2 Timothy 2:19.

This is also confirmed by the description ‘thisrock’. Along with the change in gender it does not fit well with it referring to ‘Peter’. Nor in fact would the play on words be necessary for that purpose. ‘Onyouas the rock I will build my congregation’ would have been more than sufficient and would have had more impact. But most importantly making the play of words apply to Peter actuallytakes all the attention away from the vital statement that he had madeand concentrates it on Peter, and that does not tie in with the following words which demand a reference back to ‘the living God’ as a comparison with the gates of Hades. Nor does it tie in with the fact that Mark and Luke do place all the attention on Jesus as the Christ and ignore the words to Peter altogether. On the other hand, as a reference back to the words that Peter had spoken, with ‘this’ and the slight change of gender indicating it, the words fit admirably, and the word play is perfect.

Others, of course, see it differently, and are entitled to do so. As so often it is a matter of how we see it. Thus many have actually argued that referring the word play to Peter is ‘the only possible interpretation’, a very odd and rather arrogant conclusion. And it is, of course, going much too far as the consensus against it among the majority of the early fathers makes clear. Any such dogmatism is therefore unwarranted. The truth is that both interpretations are possible. It is a question of deciding which fits the facts better, and of what Jesus intended. (Either way there is not the slightest suggestion that Peter's position will be passed on to 'successors'. When Peter died many of the Apostles were still living. Had there been a passing on of authority it would have been to one of them).

Furthermore if there is one thing that is clear in Scripture, it is that ‘the church’ was built on Christ (1 Corinthians 3:10-11; Ephesians 2:20) and not on Peter. When the Apostles are mentioned in connection with being the foundation it is specifically all the Apostles as ‘the Apostolate’ who are in mind (Ephesians 2:20; Revelation 21:12; Revelation 21:14), with Jesus Christ Himself as the chief cornerstone (Ephesians 2:20). While Peter must be given credit for his ‘leadership’ we do wrong to overrate it. The New Testament is careful not to do so. While describing Peter as the first stone in the erection of the whole construction (as the first to recognise and acknowledge the Messiah, but see John 1:41), would not necessarily conflict with this, doing so does take away the emphasis from what is really being presented as the true foundation, the Messiahship and Sonship of Jesus, which is the emphasis of this passage. It is because He is the Son of the ‘living’ God that the gates of Hades have lost their power.

We may summarise the position as follows;

1) When Jesus speaks of ‘building’ on a ‘rock’ (same Greek words) it indicates building on words that have been spoken (Matthew 7:24). This is unquestionable in the case of Matthew 7:24 and therefore strongly supports such an interpretation in cases of doubt when the same idea is used. And this is supported by 2 Timothy 2:19 where the foundation described is also a twofold saying. This thus supports the idea that Jesus was here talking of building His congregation (His house) on the rock of true teaching, that is, on Peter’s confession and its significance, which provided a foundation that could not fail, with due credit being given to Peter as the rock-producer.

The idea of ‘building’ the congregation of Israel is perfectly scriptural. See especially Jeremiah 31:2-4, which fits in perfectly with the themes in Matthew, ‘the people who survived the sword found grace in the wilderness, when Israel sought for rest, the Lord appeared to him from afar, I have loved you with an everlasting love, therefore have I continued my faithfulness to you, again I will build you, and you shall be built O virgin Israel’. Note the wilderness motif (Matthew 2:15; Matthew 3:1; Matthew 4:1; Matthew 14:13; Matthew 15:33), the seeking for rest (Matthew 5:3-9; Matthew 11:28-30), the One Who came from afar (Matthew 3:17; Matthew 11:3; Matthew 11:25-27; Matthew 16:16), the compassion (Matthew 9:36; Matthew 14:14), and finally the building of ‘virgin Israel’, the pure Israel. (For ‘building’ used in such a way compare also Jeremiah 33:7; Amos 9:11). This might almost have been a blueprint for Matthew.

2) The contrast of petros with petra suggests a play on words but not an identification. Had Jesus wanted to make an identification He could so easily have said ‘on you’ or have used petros. Furthermore ‘this rock’ is a strange and indirect way of identifying with a name, especially with a change of gender, whereas it is a very sensible way of identifying with a saying just recently spoken by that person.

3) Peter is never elsewhere seen as the foundation. When applied to the Apostles the idea is always of all the Apostles (Ephesians 2:20; Revelation 21:14). But Scripture just as often identifies Christ as the foundation (1 Corinthians 3:10-11; Ephesians 2:20), and His words (Matthew 7:25), and in fact states that there can be no other foundation (1 Corinthians 3:11). Thus the church could hardly be built on Peter as the foundation (as opposed to the first stone).

4) The large majority of the early fathers saw the ‘petra’ as the statement of Peter, and they at least were unaffected by later controversies.

5) The reason that ‘the gates of Hades (the grave-world)’ could not prevail against the new ‘ekklesia’ is precisely because it is founded on ‘the Christ, the son of thelivingGod’. Death was defeated by the living One. There is absolutely no way in which such a statement could be said to directly connect to the idea of a church founded ‘on Peter’. There is no parallelism in the ideas. For the reason that the gates of Hades will in fact not prevail is precisely because it is being founded on the Son of the living God Who is present and at work, thus the emphasis is clearly being kept on the saying not on Peter.

So in our view everything points to the words as signifying that the church will be built on the truth that Peter has proclaimed. It should also be noted that this is not a question of denouncing the Roman church (except in this interpretation). That should not come into the question. The Roman interpretation is a fantasy whichever way we take it, building up huge dogma out of nothing. For even if Jesus was somewhat misleading in the way He spoke and did mean Peter, it would still justify nothing more than seeing it as a happy play on words. There would be no grounds at all for reading from it any more than a commendation for being the first to say what he did, and an indication that he was, as it were, the first stone laid of the new congregation. For whatever way we interpret it the truth is that the whole of the rest of the New Testament is against seeing Peter as other thanoneof a number of leading Apostles, for Paul puts James the Lord’s brother first in Galatians 2:9, and significantly it is James the brother of John whom in Acts 12 the king selects as his first target, not Peter. Furthermore, Peter is called to account by the church in Acts 11 and has to explain himself there, and the same thing happens in Galatians 2 when he is called to account by Paul. Nor does he ever cite himself as having any special authority other than that of an Apostle, even in his letters. So his prominence is well balanced by counter-factors, revealing that his prominence rather arises as a result of his being an outstanding character among equals. Note especially the continual stress in Acts 1-5 on ‘the Apostles’ as working together (often underestimated).

‘I will build my church/congregation/assembly (ekklesia).’ The word ekklesia is regularly used in LXX to translate qahal where it refers to ‘the congregation’ of Israel. The use here of ekklesia is therefore firmly based on the Greek Old Testament. Whatever the Aramaic behind it (if Jesus was speaking in Aramaic) we have here the continuation of the idea that Jesus is forming a new community, a new ‘congregation’ of Israel, an idea which, as we have seen, comes often in Matthew’s Gospel (note Matthew 21:43) and is the common idea lying behind both miraculous feedings of the crowds. They are the new Israel in the wilderness, feeding of the bread of Heaven. In fact a Jewish Messiah without such a Messianic community would have been an enigma. The whole idea of Israel was that it was ‘the congregation of Israel’ who gathered around the earthly Dwellingplace of God and the Law. The New Testament ‘congregation of Israel’ would therefore gather around Christ and His teaching, as epitomised in Peter’s confession. This is another ground for seeing ‘the rock’ as Peter’s confession.

This connection of ‘the congregation’ with the Kingly Rule of Heaven is confirmed in the Psalms. The Kingly Rule over all who are His, is clearly declared in Psalms 103:19, where it says, ‘YHWH has established His Name in the Heavens, and His Kingly Rule (Psalms 102:19 LXX he basileia autou) reigns over all’. Here God is seen as King in the Heavens, with His Kingly Rule established as He reigns over all in Heaven and earth. The ‘all’ here could signify ‘all people’ or ‘all things’, but the principle is the same, He is Lord over all.

The same is true in the parallel passage in Psalms 22:28 which similarly declares ‘of YHWH is the Kingly Rule (Psalm 21:29 LXX tou kuriou he basileia), and He reigns over the nations’. Here the Kingly Rule is specifically seen as ‘over the people’. Thus in the Psalms the Kingly Rule of YHWH over all things and especially ‘over the nations’, that is, over all people, is made clear. Neither Psalmist has any doubts about Who is sovereign over the Universe. That is indeed why He is the Judge of all the earth (Genesis 18:25).

The only problem is that that Kingly Rule is not accepted by the people. The nations are seen as in rebellion against that Kingly Rule (e.g. Psalms 2:1-2; Psalms 5:10; Psalms 110:2), and as having taken the Rule out of His hands. But this is not a problem to the Psalmist, for he knows that in the end God will firmly establish His Kingly Rule. Nothing can prevent Him for man is but as grass, and when the wind blows he is gone (Psalms 103:15-16). And in contrast those who are oppressed will receive justice and be vindicated, and those who fear Him and keep His covenant and obey His commands will experience His covenant love (Psalms 103:6; Psalms 103:17-18), and they will do it ‘in the midst of the ekklesia’ (LXX of Psalms 22:22 MT) as the ‘great congregation’ (Psalms 22:25 MT - LXX ‘en ekklesia megale’). So the Psalmists clearly see that YHWH will re-exert His Kingly Rule, destroying those who continue in rebellion, while delivering those who respond to Him, submit to His covenant and walk in obedience to Him as ‘the congregation’ (ekklesia).

This whole idea is again emphasised in Psalms 22, and here as we have seen it is closely connected with ‘the congregation’. Here also the triumph of God’s Kingly Rule is assured, and it is especially the poor and the meek who will benefit. He has ‘not despised the affliction of the poor’ (Psalms 22:24 MT Psalms 22:25 LXX ptowchou), where ‘the poor’ is a description of the Psalmist, (and it is a Psalm of David, and it is thus not speaking of abject poverty). Thus it is to the poor (ptowchoi) in spirit that the Kingly Rule of Heaven belongs (Matthew 5:3). Moreover it also tells us that ‘the meek will eat and be satisfied’ (Matthew 5:5-6; Psalms 22:26; Psalms 37:11). And the poor and the meek will praise Him in the ekklesia (‘the congregation’ - Psalms 22:22; Psalms 22:25)). And the result will be that ‘all the ends of the earth will remember and turn to the Lord’ (Psalms 22:27). Here then is a description of what Jesus has come to bring about, blessing on the poor and the meek (Matthew 5:3; Matthew 5:5) through His Kingly Rule, so that they praise Him in ‘the congregation’, with the ends of the earth recognising that Kingly Rule (Matthew 22:22), and it is noteworthy that in the Psalm it follows hard on the description of the sufferings of the son of David in Psalms 22:12-21.

As a result His Name is to be declared to ‘my brethren’ and in the midst of ‘the congregation’ (LXX ekklesia ‘church’) He is to be praised. Thus those who will finally submit to the Kingly Rule of YHWH are here clearly described as ‘the church’ or ‘the congregation’, and Jesus may well have had this Psalm in mind here. We see therefore in these Psalms the basis of theses two central themes in Matthew, the ‘Kingly Rule’ of Heaven which will benefit the poor and meek, and the ‘congregation’ who will praise YHWH (Matthew 16:18; Matthew 18:17).


Verse 19

“I will give to you the keys of the kingly rule of heaven, and whatever you will bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven.” ’

Peter then continues to be honoured for what he has said, but we must remember that the privilege he receives is that of a servant, not of a master. He is to be given 'the keys of the Kingly Rule of Heaven' (but not necessarily the only keys). He will be, as it were, ‘a doorkeeper to the house of the Lord’ (Psalms 84:10). And what will these enable him to do? Jesus goes on to explain. They will enable him to bind and loose (an ability later given to all the Apostles - Matthew 18:18).It is the servant or steward who bears the keys, not the master of the household. And he will open up the door for others, both by determining doctrine, and by establishing the church. This was primarily fulfilled in that Peter was the first preacher to the Jews after the resurrection, in Acts 2, and the first official opener of the doors to Gentiles, in Acts 10-11.

But like all pictures, in interpreting this we must look for examples which explain the point in Scripture. We cannot just interpret it to suit our own viewpoints. That is to make revelation subject to what we think, and that is clearly foolish. Revelation is intended to shape what we think. A clear example of what these words mean is found in chapter 23, where the Scribes are said not to open the truth either to themselves or others. ‘You shut the Kingly Rule of Heaven against men. For you neither enter yourselves, nor allow those who are entering in to enter’ (Matthew 23:13). They were using the keys of the Kingly Rule of Heaven wrongly (each Scribe was given a key representing the key of knowledge when he graduated - Luke 11:52), because they resisted the truth as it is found in Jesus. And they sought to prevent others responding to His words. Thus the keys of the Kingly Rule of Heaven are related to the proclamation of the truth, and to the encouraging of men and women to enter under the Kingly Rule of Heaven. These words are highly significant, for they were indicating that 'the keys' which belonged to the Scribes had now been taken off them and given to the Apostles on their confession of His Messiahship.

To Peter then, and to the remainder of the Apostles, to the Scribes of the early church (Matthew 13:52), and to the later appointees of the early church, and to us, are granted the keys of the Kingly Rule of Heaven. When we proclaim His truth we open the door, when we withhold the truth we close the door. Peter was especially given the keys at this point because he had demonstrated by his words that he had a message to preach. He was the first to receive them because he was the first to declare the truth about Jesus. From now on he could proclaim this new truth, that Jesus is the Christ, the son of the living God, opening the Kingly Rule of Heaven to all who would hear.

But there is no suggestion that these are the only keys, and that they are given to Peter exclusively. He received them first because he was the first to testify of Jesus that He was the son of the living God. And as others began to be aware of the same they too would receive the keys of the Kingly Rule of Heaven.

In the light of the words that follow, it is almost certain that we are to see in these keys a reference to ‘the key of knowledge’ which was solemnly presented to each Rabbi on his successful completion of his probation, whereby he was to open the meaning of the Law to God’s people (compare Luke 11:52). It is true that that was only a single key given to each. But that is the point. Their keys have been taken from them and entrusted to Peter on behalf of all the Apostles. However if Jesus was combining this idea with that of proclamation to both Jew and Gentile then He might well have had in mind two keys, one for opening the truth to the Jews and the other for opening it to the Gentiles, just as He was doing Himself. It should be noted that the use of the key by the Rabbis was to unlock the truth to people in order that they might enter the Kingly Rule of Heaven (Matthew 23:13), and that Jesus’ charge is that they failed even to use if for themselves. There was no thought of them actually controlling who could enter (except by failing to reveal the truth to them). They were servants and stewards, not Masters.

‘And whatever you will bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven.’ Here is the prime example of the use of the keys. They are to be used in accordance with heavenly instruction through the Spirit (note the tense of the verb 'shall have been bound/loosed in Heaven'), as the Spirit reveals to them the deep things of God (1 Corinthians 2:9-16). The Rabbis were spoken of as binding the Law when they forbade something, or gave a strict interpretation, and as loosing the Law when they ameliorated it in some way. In the same way then, Peter was to be able to make decisions, along with all the other Apostles (Matthew 18:18), which would determine the meaning of Scriptural injunctions for God’s people. They were given the authority to expand and explain. We find this being carried out in the letters of Peter, John and Paul. But we should note that when there was disagreement expounded truth must prevail (e.g. Galatians 2:11-17). For this ministry they would be given special and unique enlightenment as they applied the Master’s words (John 16:13-14). This power and authority was especially required in the days of the infant church, before there was a New Testament which contained within it that expounded truth.

But we should note here the future perfect tense which whenever it is used is significant. The verb ‘to loose’ is freely used in all its tenses so that when the future perfect is chosen it must be seen as to be given its full force, otherwise it would not have been used. And that force is ‘shall have been’. Thus it is saying here that each decision that the disciples make is to have first been established in Heaven. They are thus to respond to what Heaven says, not make their decisions so that Heaven may concur. Theirs is a great responsibility. It is to receive the mind of Christ on behalf of the infant church (1 Corinthians 2:16). They were to be humble servants of the Master, and responsive to His revelation to them.

Note. These keys must not be confused with the key of David (Isaiah 22:22) for that is clearly still said to be in Jesus' hands as the One Who 'opens and shuts'. See Revelation 3:7. That is the key of history and of men's destiny.


Verse 20

‘Then he charged the disciples that they should tell no man that he was the Christ.’

Having declared His Messianic purpose Jesus now urged on His disciples the need to not, as yet, proclaim Him as the Messiah to the public. The reason for this was almost certainly because Israel’s view of the Messiah was such that the people might gain the wrong idea and seek to raise men to arms in support of His cause, while the Roman authorities would gather from the claim that He was an insurgent. So it would not only bring down on Him the wrath of Rome, but was also misrepresent the purpose for which He had come. He had come to save and to bless, not to destroy.

It was not that Jesus was not ‘the Anointed One’ (Messiah), for He constantly made clear in one way or another that He was. It was because the expression ‘Messiah’ gave to the people the wrong impression of Him because of men’s misconceptions. It had become a misrepresentation of the truth that it was intended to proclaim, and we must always be ready to drop terms that have begun to give misconceptions. However, once it had been reinterpreted after the resurrection, it would become a central plank in the Gospel. Jesus could then openly be proclaimed as ‘the Christ’.


Verse 21

‘From that time Jesus began to show to his disciples, that he must go to Jerusalem, and suffer many things at the hands of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and the third day be raised up.’

Now He feels it important to make clear to His disciples the deeper truths concerning His coming, and ‘from that time’ He began to emphasise His coming suffering. Going to Jerusalem for these purposes was something that ‘it was necessary’ for Him to do. For it was in the will and purposes of God. So they must recognise once and for all that He was not here to lead them to victory against the Romans. Rather He was here to ‘suffer many things’, as the Son of man had suffered in Daniel 7 (as one with ‘the saints of the Most High’) under the depredations of the wild beasts, which represented empires like Rome, and as the Servant had suffered for the redemption of His people (Isaiah 53), and as the Psalmist king had suffered in readiness for the new dawn (Psalms 22). And this must be so because the world is such that godly people must always suffer if good is to triumph (Acts 14:22). Let them consider the Psalms which consistently refer to suffering. Let them consider what had happened to the prophets. Let them consider the Servant of the Lord in Isaiah 50, 53. It was the nature of the world that those who followed God would suffer (compare Hebrews 11). And thus He, Who as the Son of Man and Servant was representative man, must also ‘suffer many things’ including scorn, rejection, tears, scourgings and death. (Compare Matthew 17:22-23; Matthew 20:17-19; Matthew 20:28; Matthew 21:39; Matthew 26:2; Matthew 26:12; Matthew 26:24; Matthew 26:28; Matthew 26:31; Mark 9:12; Mark 10:45; Luke 17:25; Luke 22:15; Luke 24:7; Luke 24:26; Luke 24:46; John 3:14; John 10:15; John 10:17; Acts 1:3; Acts 3:18; Hebrews 2:18; Hebrews 5:8; Hebrews 9:26; Hebrews 13:12; 1 Peter 2:21; 1 Peter 2:23; 1 Peter 3:18; 1 Peter 4:1)

‘At the hands of the elders and chief priests and scribes.’ The elders were the prominent lay people on the Council (Matthew 21:23; Matthew 26:3; Matthew 26:47; Matthew 26:57; Matthew 26:59; Mark 11:27; Mark 14:43; Mark 14:53; Mark 15:1; Luke 7:3; Luke 20:1; Luke 22:52; Luke 22:66), the chief priests were the hierarchy who regulated Temple affairs (Matthew 21:15; Matthew 21:23; Matthew 21:45; Matthew 26:3; Matthew 26:14; Matthew 26:47; Matthew 26:59 etc.) and the scribes were the Teachers of the Law (Matthew 9:3; Matthew 12:28; Matthew 15:1; Matthew 21:15; Matthew 23; Matthew 26:3; Matthew 26:57; Matthew 27:41; Luke 5:21; Luke 5:30; Luke 6:7). He was already rejected by many of them and He recognised that it was to be expected that almost all of them would turn against Him (Psalms 118 (LXX 117).22), for He knew what was in man (John 2:25), and He was hardly ensuring His popularity by tearing down their structures and their hypocrisy. He was no different in this respect than the previous prophets. He was here to be rejected by the great Jewish religious leaders of the day, as the great prophets had always been, and necessarily must be (compare Matthew 21:35-36; Matthew 23:35; Matthew 23:37; Mark 12:5; Luke 6:23; Luke 13:33-34; Luke 20:10-12). In His view this was inevitable. Had He not Himself declared, ‘Woe to you when all men speak well of you’? (Luke 6:26). It was of false prophets that men spoke well (Luke 6:26). They had rejected Jeremiah. Would they not do the same to Him?

We can consider here God’s complaint against the Jewish leaders in Jeremiah 2:8, of whom He says, “the priests did not say ‘where is the Lord’ and they that handle the Law knew Me not.” They had long ago turned against God. Compare in this regard Jeremiah 18:18 where Jeremiah too was rejected by those who handled the Law and Jeremiah 20:1-2 where he was smitten by ‘the priest who was the chief officer in the house of the Lord’. See also Jeremiah 26:7-8; Jeremiah 26:11 where ‘the priests and the prophets’ sought his death. Jeremiah would be especially significant to Jesus as he too prophesied the destruction of the Temple (Jeremiah 7:14), calling it a ‘den of robbers’ (Jeremiah 7:11). And now a greater than Jeremiah was here saying the same things. So it would be nothing new for the religious leaders of Israel to condemn such a prophet ‘for the sake of the nation’ (John 18:14). This idea of the rejection by the Jewish leaders is further based on the pattern of such Scriptures as Zechariah 11 where the true shepherd who had fed the flock was rejected by the false shepherds of Judah and Israel, and was dismissed for thirty pieces of silver, the value of a slave, which he cast to the potter in the house of the Lord as a sign that the amount was rejected by him and was insufficient. Thus rejection by the elders, and chief priests and scribes must not be seen as anything unusual. It was what had always been.

‘And be killed.’ He had no doubts about what lay ahead. It is not really surprising that Jesus saw His future in terms of suffering. He had witnessed what had happened to John the Baptist (Matthew 14:3-12; Luke 9:7; Luke 9:9), He knew of the growing antagonism against Him (Matthew 9:11; Matthew 9:34; Matthew 12:1-14; Matthew 12:24; Matthew 15:1-2; Matthew 16:1; Mark 3:6; Mark 3:22; Luke 6:11), He knew of the career of the Suffering Servant in Isaiah 51:4-11; Isaiah 52:13 to Isaiah 53:12, and of the Smitten Shepherd in Zechariah 13:7 (consider John 10:11). He knew of the references to the suffering of the godly in the Psalms (e.g. Psalms 22; Psalms 118:10 on) and He knew that the Son of Man in Daniel as the representative of God’s people would come out of suffering into the presence of God, even while ‘the wild beasts’ were attacking the true people of God (Daniel 7:13-14 with Matthew 16:22 and Matthew 16:25-27). He had no Messianic delusions. Unlike the disciples He knew precisely what was in store for Him. And He knew that His death was necessary so that He could be a ‘ransom for many’ (Matthew 20:28; Mark 10:45)

Strictly speaking the disciples should also have been prepared for this, but like us, and like the Jews, they had the ability to make words mean what they wanted them to mean. Some of them had been disciples of John the Baptiser, and they had been shocked when he had met a violent end. And they had also been told that the Bridegroom was to be ‘snatched away’ from them (Matthew 9:15; Mark 2:20; Luke 5:35), and then they would fast. It had further been inferred that the temple of His body would be destroyed, and in three days raised again (John 2:19). And Jesus had clearly stated that He was giving His flesh for the life of the world (John 6:51) and that men would ‘eat and drink’ of Him (John 6:56), a clear reference to His being put to death according to Old Testament passages such as Psalms 14:4; Psalms 53:4; Micah 3:3; Isaiah 49:26; Zechariah 9:15 LXX compare Matthew 23:30. But in the way men have they had refused to accept the unpalatable truth and had ignored it. Now they were being faced up with it in a way that could not be ignored.

Interestingly we have here an evidence of how carefully the actual words of Jesus were preserved. It would have been so easy to alter it to read ‘crucified’, especially in the light of Matthew 16:24 (and see Luke 24:7) and the fact that crucifixion was the normal death under the Romans for high treason, but they did not. Compare Matthew 20:19 where, by then aware that He was to be handed over to the Gentiles, He recognised the inevitability of crucifixion.

‘And the third day be raised up.’ But on the third day He would rise again. He may not have intended ‘the third day’ literally. ‘Three days’ indicated a relatively short period of time and could mean ‘within days’ (compare the ‘three days journey’, a standard phrase in the Pentateuch indicating a shortish journey compared with the longer ‘seven days journey’ - Genesis 30:36; Exodus 3:18; Exodus 5:3; Exodus 8:27; Numbers 10:33; Numbers 33:8; Jonah 3:3).

This idea of a third day resurrection is found in Hosea 6:1-2, and as Jesus has previously mentioned (Matthew 12:39-40), in Jonah 1:29. (Matthew, like Luke, interprets the ‘three days’ of Mark as ‘the third day’ in accord with Jewish practise). And this interpreted in the light of the suffering Servant of Isaiah. Hosea 6:1-2 was initially spoken of Israel, (God’s vine). But Jesus was here as in Himself representing the true Israel, the true Vine (John 15:1), as God’s Son called out of Egypt (Matthew 2:15). As the Servant He was Israel (Isaiah 49:3). Thus he could apply Hosea 6:1-2 to Himself.

Note the context in Hosea. God will wait ‘in His place’ until Israel acknowledge their guilt and seek His face, and in their distress seek Him and say, ‘come let us return to the Lord’. But this will not be until ‘He has torn that He may heal them, He has stricken and will bind them up’. These last words could well have been spoken looking at the Servant. For as Isaiah has made clear (Isaiah 53:3-5) this was what first had be played out on the One Who was to come as the representative of Israel. We have here a clear picture of the Servant as described in Isaiah 53. It is in Him finally that He has torn them, it is in Him that He has stricken them, for He has borne in their place all that they should have faced (Isaiah 53:3-6). And the result will be a reviving and a raising up on the third day, first for Him (Isaiah 53:10; Isaiah 53:12) and then for them. For He will have gone before them in order to be a guilt offering and make it possible for all (Isaiah 53:10). Indeed it could all only be because their representative had first gone through it for them that they could enjoy it.

So as the One Who saw Himself as suffering for Israel in their place, and as their representative, Jesus also saw Himself as being raised again like them, on the third day as in Hosea.

Indeed a moments thought reveals that the Servant’s task could only be fulfilled by resurrection. How else could He ‘see His offspring’, ‘prolong His days’ and receive the spoils of victory (Isaiah 53:10; Isaiah 53:12)? (Compare also Isaiah 52:13-15). And how else could the Son of Man come triumphantly out of the suffering and death of the true people of God (the holy ones of the Most High) into the presence of the Ancient of Days to receive the everlasting kingdom (Daniel 7:13-14)? And unless He was raised how could the Holy One ‘not see corruption’ (Psalms 16:10)? Resurrection was required as God’s vindication in a suffering world (Isaiah 26:19), and especially so for the suffering Servant. And it is also constantly implied by such statements as Luke 9:24-26. All this was clear from the Scriptures (Luke 18:31).


Verses 21-27

Jesus Reveals That As The Messiah and Son of Man He Must Suffer (16:21-27).

Jesus declares that the way of suffering lies ahead for Him as the Messiah, and when Peter tries to show Him His ‘error’, He rebukes Peter and points out that all those who follow Him must choose the way of suffering. That is the way forward in order to establish His Kingly Rule over men’s lives. Contrary winds must be faced by those who would reach ‘the other side’. And then, when He returns in the glory of His Father as the Son of Man all will be judged according to their deeds. They will be examined to see whether are truly under the Kingly Rule of Heaven, whether they have truly done the will of His Father (Matthew 7:21). For He is not dealing now with personal preferences but with the Kingly Rule of Heaven, and what it requires of men and women in a world which is in opposition to God.

a From that time Jesus began to show to His disciples, that He must go to Jerusalem, and suffer many things at the hands of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and the third day be raised up (Matthew 16:21).

b And Peter took Him, and began to rebuke Him, saying, “Be it far from you, Lord, this will never happen to you” (Matthew 16:22).

c But He turned, and said to Peter, “Get you behind me, Satan, You are a stumbling-block to me, for you do not mind the things of God, but the things of men” (Matthew 16:23).

d Then Jesus said to His disciples, “If any man would come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me” (Matthew 16:24).

c “For whoever would save his life will lose it, and whoever will lose his life for my sake will find it” (Matthew 16:25).

b “For what will a man be profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and forfeit his life? Or what shall a man give in exchange for his life?” (Matthew 16:26).

a “For the Son of man will come in the glory of His Father with His angels, and then will He render to every man according to his deeds” (Matthew 16:27).

Note that in ‘a’ Jesus will be judged by men according to what He has done, and in the parallel He will judge men according to what they have done. In ‘b’ Peter seeks to dissuade Him from suffering, and in the parallel those who avoid suffering will lose their very life. In ‘c’ Jesus rebukes Peter because he has sought to persuade Him to go against the will of God and avoid losing His life, and in the parallel He points out that the one who seeks to save his life will lose it. Centrally in ‘d’ is the central theme of discipleship.


Verse 22

‘And Peter took him aside, and began to rebuke him, saying, “Be it far from you, Lord, this will never happen to you.” ’

At Jesus’ words about rejection by the Jewish leaders resulting in His death Peter felt a need to intervene. He was probably still glowing at Jesus’ previous commendation of him. Now he felt that Jesus was becoming too pessimistic, and that that could only put disciples off. And he might also have found the idea too much to bear. So he ‘took Him aside’ and began to rebuke Him, telling Him that that could never happen to Him, that He was distorting the position. How much of this was due to self-opinionation and how much to an excess of sensitivity we do not know, but it produced an instant reaction from Jesus. The words He was hearing from a beloved disciple were not helping Him. And Peter had to learn to seek the mind of Heaven before he spoke. Jesus’ words were not just a rebuke to Peter. They were intended to pull him up short and make him think of the consequences of what he was saying before he spoke.

The rebuke, and the public nature of it, were very necessary. Peter had been held up as an example of one to whom God revealed things. It was therefore necessary that he and the disciples recognise that there was someone else who could reveal things to him as well.


Verse 23

‘But he turned, and said to Peter, “Get you behind me, Satan, You are a snare to me, for you do not mind the things of God, but the things of men.” ’

So He turned to Peter, and naming Him as Satan ‘the adversary’ (satanas), bade him get behind Him, pointing out that he was becoming a snare or stumblingblock to Him (literally the trigger (skandalon) that makes the trap work) in seeking to turn Him aside from His destiny as the Servant of the Lord. He pointed out that what he was saying was not minding what God wanted, it was simply thinking like men did who had no part in the things of God.

Note here how quickly Peter the rock-like man had rather become a rock of stumbling through failing to mind the things of God, and how the one blessed of the Father with enlightenment was now listening to Satan in the darkness. It was a reminder that he could not effectively use his keys, nor his power to bind and loose, until he had learned to discover the mind of God. And at present that was not so. He was behaving like Satan who had also tempted Him to take the easy way (Matthew 4:1-11). Jesus was ever aware that Satan still sought to divert Him from God’s chosen path, and He saw him at work through Peter.


Verse 24

‘Then Jesus said to his disciples, “If any man would come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me.” ’

Jesus then responded to Peter’s foolish words with a warning of what it would mean to follow Him. And His first challenge here was this, and it was a vivid one. Were they willing from now on to deny themselves and take up their crosses and go on following Him? For if they wanted to come after Him, that was what would be required of them. We might translate ‘sets his will to come after me’, for that is the idea. It is a matter of choice, decision and determination. Jesus here chose the most vivid picture that He could think of, a picture that was constantly displayed before Jews because it was constantly a penalty carried out on insurrectionists in and around Galilee.

There was not a town in Galilee which had not seen the soldiers arrive, arrest one or more of their sons, lay across their backs the crosspiece on which they would be suspended, and then drag them off to die horribly. It was the ultimate in self-sacrifice. And once a man took up his cross all knew that he was saying goodbye to his past life for ever. He was saying goodbye to everything. He was walking the hard way which demanded everything of him (compare Matthew 7:13-14). And he had committed himself to that from the moment that he became an insurrectionist. There is indeed a sense in which it was at that first moment of choice that he had taken up the cross. It is in fact tempting to think that when those brave, if rather foolhardy, men secretly joined up with the insurrectionists they jested to each other that they were ‘taking up their crosses’, for they would know that that was what lay in store for them if and when they were caught.

Jesus had seen an especially vivid example of this in his younger days when Judas the Galilean had aroused the people of Galilee against the Roman census in 6 AD, raiding the local arsenal at Sepphoris, not far from Nazareth, and leading a band of brave men to their deaths. The result had been a multiplicity of crucifixions along the roadsides, the razing of Sepphoris to the ground and the sale of its inhabitants into slavery, something which Jesus and His contemporaries would never have forgotten.

And that is what the man who followed the Christ had to recognise. He was called on to face up to the same ultimate choice as those men, and that was to follow Him to the utmost, without any regard for himself. He must even be prepared to follow Him to death. (In the light of what they had just been told would happen to Him this would have a special significance to the Apostles).

The emphasis here was on daily commitment of the most extreme kind. The point was that each one who would come after Him must be prepared to turn his back on himself, and his own ways and his own desires, and his own chosen road, and to daily walk the way of the cross, picking up his cross anew each day so as to walk in His way in total self-sacrifice. He must choose daily to walk in the way of Christ, rather than his own way (see Isaiah 53:6), however painful it might be. He wanted them to recognise that this was what was involved in following Him. The mention of the cross was to speak of the most dreadful suffering known to men of that day. All had seen the Roman crosses set up by the roadside as a warning to criminals and rebels. All had seen the men who hung there in agony and the suffering involved. They must therefore even be prepared for that. It was a demand for total self-surrender and commitment, and a warning that it might include death.

Later this statement would be given a slightly different emphasis by being interpreted in terms of a spiritual dying to the self, and a living only for Christ through His resurrection life (compare Romans 6:3; Romans 6:11; Galatians 2:20), but here in its initial form it is stark in its reality, and refers to actually being ready to go out into life each day with the intention of turning their back on all the old ways and living wholly for Christ, recognising that any day death might be a possibility because of their choice. In view of the growing antagonism Jesus did not want them to be unaware of what might await them. And thus He tells them that they must live their lives in the light of impending death. They were to take seriously the words, ‘in the midst of life we are in death’.


Verse 25

“For whoever would save his life will lose it, and whoever will lose his life for my sake will find it.”

On the other hand, He pointed out, in spite of that, there was really only one choice to make, for the alternative was not really a choice at all. Not to respond would be equally fatal. For the one who shunned this dying to self and such a possibility of martyrdom, and thereby sought to save His life for himself, would unquestionably finally lose true life altogether. He would lose his soul. This was the challenge of the last days.

But the one who did, for Christ’s sake, actually lose his life by giving it up to Christ to be solely lived for His purposes, and indeed to die for Him if necessary, would in fact then save it. For he could then be sure that he would have life that was life indeed and that in the final day he would be raised with Him (see John 6:39-40; John 6:44). We may rightly spiritualise it in applying it to ourselves, but in the violent world of those days it was a genuine option and the mention of the cross had an ominous significance.

The choice He offered was certainly not an easy one for anyone, and especially not for the well-to-do and the influential. By openly following Jesus they might easily cut themselves off from the spheres of influence and power and be degraded and set aside by those in authority. No one knew where his choice would lead him. He might be committing political suicide. He might be ostracised by his friends. And it might even lead to death. It was a choice with which those who thought to follow Christ then would constantly be faced, and in some places still are. But as Jesus wanted each to recognise, the alternative was in the end to lose everything. So while to opt for Christ carried with it the possibility of suffering, persecution, and death, although then with the guarantee of eternal life, to opt against Him was to opt for final destruction.


Verse 26

“For what will a man be profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and forfeit his life? Or what shall a man give in exchange for his life?” ’

So He puts to those who were following Him (and to us) the ultimate challenge. Of what advantage is there for anyone to gain the whole world and as a result forfeit eternal life? And if he failed to follow Christ what could a man possibly offer to God in exchange for his life? Jesus knew the temptation. He had been offered the whole world by Satan (Matthew 4:8-9). But He had turned it down. In a lesser way men have stood astride their world many times in history, and have received much glory and wealth, but in the end all have died, and perished. Not one is alive today. And thus ultimately, if their living had not been for Christ, they had lost all. They may be famous names in the history books, but if their names were not written in Heaven, they have nothing. Are they, asks Jesus, the gainers or the losers? But to the one who comes to Him, yielding himself to Him, He gives eternal life. By giving up what they cannot finally keep, they gain what they cannot lose. In return, however, they must be ready to lay their lives on the line for Him, and to follow Him utterly. This is a constant theme in the New Testament (John 3:17; John 3:19; 1 Corinthians 1:18-31; 2 Corinthians 4:18; Galatians 2:20; 2 Peter 1:4; 1 John 2:15-16). It is not that by this they buy themselves life. It is because they cannot find life apart from following the One Who will give His life a ransom for many (Matthew 20:28).

Some have seen this verse as partly based on Psalms 49. ‘Those who trust in their wealth, and boast themselves in the huge amount of their riches, none of them can by any means redeem his brother, nor give to God a ransom for him -- that he should still live always, that he should not see corruption -- but God will redeem my soul from the power of Sheol, for He will receive me. Do not be afraid when one is made rich, when the glory of his house is increased, for when he dies he will carry nothing away’ (Psalms 49:6-9; Psalms 49:15-17). In that Psalm it was clearly indicated that there was no way by which men could redeem themselves, however rich they were. There was nothing that they could give in exchange for true life. Only God could redeem them.


Verse 27

“For the Son of man will come in the glory of his Father with his angels, and then will he render to every man according to his deeds.”

The last part of this verse is cited from Psalms 62:12 where it is God Who does this. For in the end all must be judged in the light of the final day. One day Jesus will come as the Son of Man, coming in the full glory of His Father, the glory that He had with Him before the world was (John 17:5), accompanied by His angels, those angels who had remained faithful to God from the beginning, and they will then render to every man in accordance with what he has done. None will escape the searching eye of God. For all things are open to Him with Whom we have to do. The only thing that will not have to be accounted for is forgiven sin.

‘The glory of the Father’ does not just indicate glorious light. It indicates all the resources of the Father. For in the Old Testament a king’s or nation’s ‘glory’ was often its armies and its wealth (e.g. Isaiah 8:7; Isaiah 10:3; Isaiah 16:14; Isaiah 17:3; etc.).

For those who are truly His this will be a glorious day. The dead in Christ will rise first, and then those who are alive and remain will be taken up to be for ever with the Lord (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18). The elect will be gathered in (Matthew 24:31). The wheat will be gathered into the barn (Matthew 3:12; Matthew 13:30; Matthew 13:43). And then in that day they will receive according to what they have done, as the Lord rewards His own (Romans 14:10; 1 Corinthians 3:13; 1 Corinthians 4:5; 2 Corinthians 5:10). But for those who are not His, who have not heard His words and done them, there will only be ‘outer darkness’ and the weeping and gnashing of teeth as they see that they have lost everything by their folly (Matthew 8:11-12; Matthew 13:42; Matthew 13:50; Matthew 22:13; Matthew 24:51; Matthew 25:30). For them there will be no glory and no light, only everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of His power (2 Thessalonians 1:9).

The fact that the Son of Man comes in the glory of the Father is an indication that He has previously come to God in the clouds to receive His Kingship and glory (Daniel 7:14), for that is why He can return in that glory to deliver His people and judge the world. So when the next verse speaks of Him ‘coming in His Kingly Rule’ (but not in His glory) it may be seen as suggesting a distinction between the coming in Kingly Rule and the coming in glory (compare His distinction in Luke 4:19 between ‘the acceptable year of the Lord’ and ‘the day of vengeance of our God’, the latter of which He omits because it was not coming at the same time. In the same way in Matthew 16:28 he omits the glory).


Verse 28

Note on Matthew 16:28.

Before we consider this whole passage we should perhaps consider the meaning of Matthew 16:28 which has been the subject of much controversy. And in order to consider it we need to see the three versions of it, as found in Matthew, Mark and Luke, side by side.

16. 28 “Truly I say to you, there are some of those who stand here, who will in no way taste of death, until they see the Son of man coming in His kingly rule.”

Mark 9:1 ‘And he said to them, “Truly I say to you, there are some here of those who stand by who will in no way taste of death until they see the Kingly Rule of God come with power.” ’

Luke 9:27 “But I tell you of a truth, There are some of them who stand here, who will in no wise taste of death, until they see the Kingly Rule of God.”

Note that all the versions emphasise the certainty of the truth of the statement, all speak of those who stand there, all refer to their not all tasting death until what follows occurs, the difference therefore lies in the final words. ‘Until they see’ 1) the Son of Man coming in His Kingly Rule, 2) the Kingly Rule of God come with power, 3) the Kingly Rule of God, and even here the emphasis in each case is on God’s Kingly Rule, in Matthew’s case as exercised through the Son of Man.

It is noteworthy also that all the statements follow the idea of the Son of Man coming in glory, either His own or His Father’s, something which is emphasised. Yet one striking consideration here is that, although all differ, none of the three versions of this verse refer to that glory. Their emphasis is on their ‘seeing the Kingly Rule of God’, in Mark’s case ‘with power’, and the glory appears to be avoided. Contrast how in Matthew 24:27; Matthew 24:30; Matthew 25:31 we find the repetition of the idea of glory. And this is especially interesting in the light of the fact that His coming in glory is never spoken of as introducing His Kingly Rule. Its emphasis is on His being the Judge as a result of possessing that Kingly Rule.

This suggests strongly that this verse is intended to refer to the fact that He is seen first as coming in His Kingly Rule (with power), in order to establish it, but not in glory. Luke’s phrase especially is quite basic. In view of Jesus’ words concerning the presence of the Kingly Rule of God as already being on earth (Matthew 17:21) and as something that is spreading (Matthew 16:16) this would suggest that Luke at least is talking about the Kingly Rule of God as being ‘seen’ in its establishment on a wide basis on earth (Acts 1:3; Acts 1:8; Acts 28:23; Acts 28:31). Mark’s addition of ‘with power’ tends to confirm this, rather than otherwise. The idea is of the invasion first, and then the taking up of His throne in glory follows. What then does Matthew’s ‘the Son of Man coming in His Kingly Rule’ refer to? One reply to that question could be that he answers the question himself in Matthew 28:18-20. For there Matthew is indicating that he sees Jesus as returning after receiving all authority in Heaven and on earth, in order to go forward personally with His disciples to establish His Kingly Rule among the nations. He is to be seen as ‘coming in His Kingly Rule’ as with them He goes forward to establish that Kingly Rule. The doubt that may be raised is that in those verses there is no mention of the Son of Man. But countering that is the fact that calling Jesus the Son of Man after His resurrection, in a context where He is called the Son, might not be seen as fitting. He is no longer the Son of Man, He is the Son. Another alternative possibility is that ‘coming in His Kingly Rule’ refers to His approach to the throne of God ‘in royal power’ so as to establish His dominion and glory with God’s help (Daniel 7:13; compare Matthew 26:64 where that idea is also probably in mind). That being so the most reasonable interpretation of these words in all three versions is that they refer to Jesus’ coming work of establishing the Kingly Rule of God on earth in its expanded manifestation as it reaches out to ‘all nations’, in Matthew’s case by the fact of His very presence with them, having received His Kingly Rule, and in the case of Mark and Luke by the Holy Spirit revealing God’s Kingly Rule and bringing it about and extending it in Acts.

Other suggestions include that it refers to the Transfiguration (see below), to the Kingly Rule as having already come and needing to be appreciated, to Pentecost, to the Destruction of Jerusalem and to the Parousia. All are of course undoubtedly manifestations of His Kingly Rule, but in our view none of these quite fit comfortably in with Jesus’ way of expressing it

End of note.

Matthew 16:28 “Truly I say to you, there are some of those who stand here, who will in no way taste of death, until they see the Son of man coming in His kingly rule.”

Following what we have seen in the note this is Jesus’ firmly declared confirmation to His disciples that within the possible lifetimes of the youngest present (the some who will not taste of death) they will see the Son of Man coming in His Kingly Rule, that is, His Kingly authority.

Looking at the chiasmus there may well be the indication that this verse is partly fulfilled in the Transfiguration, for ‘seeing the Son of Man coming in His Kingly Rule’ is there paralleled with ‘seeing no one but Jesus only’, and the Son of Man certainly appears in the Transfiguration in glory. They could thus be said to have seen in His transfiguration His manifestation as the King in His glory (Daniel 7:14), and as the manifestation of the One Who has come in His Kingly Rule, a preview of the greater manifestation in Matthew 25:31. And this ties in with the fact that in each Gospel the Transfiguration scene is firmly attached to these words. Taking the words strictly literally the Transfiguration fulfils all the requirements of the verse. And this suggestion is further backed up in that 2 Peter 1:16 can be interpreted as describing the Transfiguration in terms of revealing ‘the power and the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ’, where the revelation of His power and His coming are seen as synonymous and as being revealed at that time.

But it is argued that the Transfiguration probably cannot be seen as the full fulfilment of these words, because that would appear to make nonsense of the words ‘some standing here’, which seem to indicate that a good number will taste of death before this ‘coming of the Son of Man in His Kingly Rule’. On the other hand that is not what He said. He did not say that many would taste of death, only that some would not until they had seen what He is speaking about. We can thus argue that Jesus deliberately did not want to be too specific about what He was planning, and knew that only some would see the Transfiguration. It is all thus very much a matter of interpretation. It could be argued that all that Jesus was wanting to get over was that only some would see it and that it would happen ‘shortly’, certainly within their lifetime. On the other hand, as we have seen, the total lack of the thought of ‘glory’ which has so prominent a part in descriptions of His second coming (Matthew 16:27; Matthew 24:27; Matthew 24:30; Matthew 25:31 twice), and of the Transfiguration, militates against Matthew 16:28 signifying either the Transfiguration or the return in glory. If that is so it therefore rather appears to point to the establishment of His Kingly Rule on earth in powerful fashion (as in mind in, for example, Matthew 11:12; Matthew 13:38; Matthew 13:52), prior to His glorious appearing, and as something that will take a good number of years to achieve (enough time to see the deaths of a good many present). It is by this process therefore that the Son of Man’s coming in His Kingly Rule is to be manifested (see Matthew 28:18-20 and compare Matthew 26:64). So all in all we may see this as Jesus’ assurance to His disciples that even though He is to suffer in the future, they are to recognise that this will not prevent the coming in of God’s Kingly Rule in the power of God, which is the purpose of His coming.

‘Until they see the Son of man coming in His kingly rule.’ The natural reading of ‘until’ would be that in the end all would taste of death. This would then confirm that it does not refer to the Parousia (for no believers could die after the Parousia when all had been gathered in) and would suggest therefore that the Parousia would not take place within the lifetime of any of them. It suggests that they will see the Kingly Rule beginning to be established by Him but will in the end die leaving that establishment to be carried on, until the Parousia finally arrives.

 


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Bibliography Information
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Matthew 16:4". "Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/pet/matthew-16.html. 2013.

Lectionary Calendar
Friday, October 18th, 2019
the Week of Proper 23 / Ordinary 28
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