Matthew 16. Whom Do Men Say That I Am?

Key Notes: Peter's confession. His place in the Church.

This is a climactic chapter, and is followed by another in Matthew17. We have had at least four pinnacles so far. The first was the baptism of Jesus; the second was the temptation in the wilderness; then there was the commissioning of the Twelve in Matt.10. The fourth was the revelation of the Kingdom in Matt. 13. This chapter focuses on who Jesus really is, and outlines His agenda. It also portrays three people or groups in various stages of decision-making.

16:1–4 The Pharisees and Sadducees came together to test Jesus, demanding a sign from heaven. Why they would do that twice (12:38) is a puzzle. Jesus had just come from healing crowds of people and feeding 4000 men, with women and children—perhaps 20,000 people. It seems foolish to ask for yet another sign. It is also odd that these two groups, not normally congenial, would come together with their question. The Pharisees and Sadducees were in many ways opposite. The Pharisees were meticulous on the details of the law and tradition; the Sadducees were liberal and political. One way leads to legalism; the other to secularism. (Both errors continue to trouble the Church today.)

Jesus’ answer took the “sign from heaven” and asked if they understood signs on earth. Did they recall the popular proverb, “Red sky at night, sailors delight; red sky at morning, sailors take warning”? Could they read the signs of the times? The nation was in turmoil with various dangerous factions such as the Zealots and the Assassins (Sicarii, cut-throats). Jesus Himself was regarded as a threat to Israel.
“If we let Him go on thus, everyone will believe in Him and the Romans will come and destroy both our holy place and our nation. “ Jn.11:48

The Messianic promise of a righteous nation living in peace had already died and they were in despair and confusion. They were planning violence (Matt.12:14) against the only One who could save them from violence. (Matt.2:6). Jesus repeated His previous answer (Matt.12:39) and did not elaborate. He will die and be raised again. That was the sign (the resurrection) not only to His generation, but to all people in all times.

16:5–12 They crossed the Lake and the disciples realized that they had brought no food. While they were thinking about that, Jesus warned them against the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees, by which He meant their teachings.

The disciples thought He was talking about bread because he mentioned yeast or leaven. Jesus had to remind them that He had just finished feeding thousands. Why should they worry about food for a dozen?
 “…do not be anxious about your life, what you shall eat…." Matt.6:25

16:13 Caesarea Philippi was about 25 miles north of the Sea of Galilee, near Mt. Hermon. It had been given to Herod Philip by Caesar Augustus. Herod rebuilt the town and added his name. The springs of the Jordan were there. It was the mythical birth-place of Pan, god of pastures and shepherds. There were also temples to Syrian Baal and one to Caesar (sometimes called “the son of God” ). It was not a holy place.

Standing in this unholy place, Jesus asked who others thought He was and they replied that He was thought to be John the Baptist (now dead) or Elijah who is associated with John (Mal.4:5) or Jeremiah—risen from the dead. (Lk.9:19). Jesus was considered one of the prophets in Judea. That remains true in our times. In Riverside Church, NYC, there are busts of Buddha, Mohammed, Socrates, Moses and Jesus evidently all on an equal basis.

Then He asked them their opinion. Peter burst out, “You are the Christ, the son of the Living God.” Jesus affirmed him and made it clear that this was a revelation from the Father. So here stood the True God in the midst of the idols. It was not the first time they have confessed Christ (Matt.14:33) but it was climactic and pivotal.

The next phrases are so important that they will be analyzed separately (A-E). I think that we are so preoccupied with Catholic claims for Peter’s power and apostolic succession that we do not read the text simply and inductively.

A. “You are Peter and on this rock I will build…”. Jesus made a play on words, a pun on Peter’s name. You are a stone (Petros) and on this rock (petra) I will build My church. In Aramaic, the two words are identical (kepha), making the sentence deliberately ambiguous. The rock is obviously linked to Peter, and to Peter’s confession. However, in the NT, the Rock refers to Christ, as Peter himself will later say. I Pet.2:6–8

In Matt.7:24,25 the rock on which to build one’s house is obedience to Jesus’ commands.
Jesus is a stumbling-block and a rock of offense to the Jews.Rom.9:33; I Pet.2:8
Israel in the wilderness “drank from that rock that followed them, and that rock was Christ." (ICor.10:4)
Jesus is also the foundation (ICor.3:11) and the cornerstone or keystone. Matt.21:42; Acts 4:11; Eph.2:20; IPet.2:6
So we understand that the rock refers to Peter, to his confession and to Jesus as foundation, cornerstone and key-stone.

B. “I will build My church….” Church" is a rare word in the Gospels, occurring only here and Matt.18:17. Jesus, however, proclaims the Kingdom everywhere. The Church is part of the Kingdom, and it is only a few weeks away from being realized. The Church will be quite obvious and Peter at Pentecost will have a large hand in its beginning.

C. “…and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it….” I always heard “the gates of Hell” but the word is “Hades”, the abode of the dead in OT literature. The phrase “gates of Hades” occurs five times in OT: Job 17:16; Job 38:17; Psa.9:13; Psa.107:18; Isa. 38:10. There the gates of Hades refers to death, not eternal punishment. The gates are where business and administration of the city were carried out. (IISam.15:2). So the gates of Hades may be interpreted as the administration of death, or death itself.

The church will not die. Its disappearance from regions such as North Africa and the Near East is attributed to heretical views of the person of Christ. Nestorians in the N. African churches taught that Jesus was a man specially endowed with the Holy Spirit. A church that taught heresy-- that kind of Christologic error--could not stand up against Islam. (Armenian Christology and the Evangelization of Islam. H.A.Chakmakjian.. E.J.Brill; Leiden,’65)

D. “I will give you the keys of the kingdom….”  Peter opened the door to the Kingdom for Jews and Gentiles. He did what Israel’s lawyers would not do. Jesus said to the lawyers, “…for you have taken way the key of knowledge; you did not enter yourselves, and you hindered those who were entering.” Lk.11:52

Peter opened the door of faith and spear-headed the formation of the church. How that worked out is written large in the Acts of the Apostles.

He presided over the first apostolic meeting when Matthias was appointed to fill Judas’ place. Acts 1:21–26
Peter preached at Pentecost and won 3000 Jews to Christ from all over the Roman Empire. Acts 2:14–41
Peter and John healed a lame man and a second sermon swelled the ranks to 5000. Acts 3:1–4:4
The Jewish elite heard his message describing Jesus as the Stone the builders rejected. 4:7–12
He put down Ananias and Sapphira for lying. 5:1–11
His shadow healed the sick. 5:15
The apostles and Peter made a second appearance before the Council, refusing to be silenced for preaching Christ crucified. 5:17–42
He affirmed the Samaritans as believers (8:14) and condemned Simon the magician. 8:20
He healed Aeneas (9:32) and raised Dorcas from the dead. 9:36–40
Peter reluctantly preached to Cornelius’ household, and witnessed their conversion, the first true Gentiles.10
He defended the Gentiles as believers before the Jerusalem church. 11:1-
Herod could not keep him in his clutches; an angel released him from prison. 12:5–10
Peter supported Paul and Barnabas’ mission to the Gentiles before the Jerusalem elders. 15:7–9

Then Peter disappeared from the Acts of the Apostles and Paul took over the task of spreading the Gospel to the Gentiles all over the civilized world. Peter was the major player in Acts 1–13 within Judean territory. Paul finished the work as far as Rome. Moreover, Peter was rebuked by Paul for kow-towing to the Jews on the question of purity. (Gal.2:11-). Peter's first general epistle was probably written in  Rome. (“Babylon”; IPet.5:13). Tradition says that he was martyred in Rome.

16:19 E. “Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” That is, Heaven decides and the apostles confirm and respond to the divine decrees. Pentecost was God’s plan, not Peter’s, announced hundreds of years before. (Joel 2:28–29). God’s sovereignty is not in question here, but only the fact that God’s will is enacted by human beings. Binding and loosing (restricting and permitting) refers also to church discipline as we read in Matt.18:18. Peter's work in Acts illustrates "binding and loosing.'

16:21–23 Jesus now made His first of three declarations of the Cross. Peter took Him aside and said “God forbid, Lord. This shall never happen to you.”  [Note the contradiction: "No!" "Lord!".] Jesus said this was not a revelation from God but a human reaction, a  hindrance, a trap (Gr. skandalon). He called Peter “Satan”, meaning an adversary. Peter fell down from the heights to the depths in a moment. So much for infallibility. Peter must get behind Jesus, where he belongs. Evidently Jesus forgave him on the spot.

16:24–27 Jesus went on to explain what following Him meant to all the disciples. Plainly they had their own ideas about what Jesus’ deity meant and its implications for them. It was to be their exaltation. He said
*Deny yourself and take up the cross.
*If you intend to save your life, you will lose it; if you lose your life for my sake you will find it.
*There is no profit in gaining the whole world if you lose your own soul.
*When the Son of Man comes in His glory, He will reward each for what he has done.

We see clearly that Peter had the keys of the kingdom and used them to open the door of salvation and start up the church.
We deny that Peter was the first of an apostolic succession of presiding bishops.
We reject any claim of Peter’s sovereign powers. Jesus told the disciples none of them were to be masters. Matt.23:8–10
We do not believe the pope is the vicar (substitute) of Christ. The Holy Spirit is Jesus’ representative in this world. Jn.14:16

The disciples’ doctrine of Christ is at the pinnacle of faith. No better way has been found to say who Jesus is. It is orthodox theology. But the chapter also shows us how the disciples thought on practical applications. Their practice was far below their theory.
*On the mundane matters of life, they remained earth-bound. We need bread. We have to eat. Who will feed us? Jesus fed 4000 but that was yesterday.
*On the long-term view of themselves in relation to Christ, they are defensive and self-protective. They do not tolerate ideas of Jesus leaving, much less suffering. When pressed, they will seek their own advantage: who is the greatest? Matt.18:1
When Jesus is physically threatened, they will run. Matt.26:56

We still have the same problems. We affirm the truths of Scripture in creed and worship. Yet we worry about our practical needs. We are fearful and defensive in relation to Christ. We are afraid to speak out. We are anything but bold.

Other comments: What are the signs of our times?
            The acceleration of practically everything
            Global warming
            Exhaustion of energy sources
            Earthquakes, floods, hurricanes and forest fires
            Islamic terrorism
            Nuclear proliferation

“increasingly uncertain times”.
“Nobody has ever seen….”
“...threatening to wipe out....”
 “worst possibility.... ”
 “...hanging by a thread”
"increasingly severe storms"
"apocalyptic dimensions"

“It is of the Lord’s mercy that we are not consumed…. Great is thy faithfulness.” (Lam.3:22 KJV)
“Since all these things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of persons ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness, looking for and hastening the coming of the Day of God ….” IIPet.3:11–12

"Sinners Jesus will receive
Sound this word of grace to all
Who the heavenly pathway leave,
All who linger, all who fall.

Sing it o’er and o’er again
Christ receiveth sinful men
Make the message clear and plain
Christ receiveth sinful men." -----Erdmann Neumeister, trans. Emma Bevan