MATTHEW 16: 13-28
Christ’s prophecy concerning the church is recorded only in the gospel that emphasises His kingship, so the two ideas are not incompatible. It is perfectly possible for Christ to be the King of Israel, one day to reign on the earth, and also, at this present time, to be the Head of the church. The Mount of Transfiguration event took place after Matthew 16, so the kingdom is still to come. Peter, who was present on the mount, declares that the Old Testament prophetic word had been confirmed to him when Christ was transfigured, 2 Peter 1:16-21.
The prediction concerning the church comes after a succession of indications that Israel intended to reject its rightful king, and that Christ was turning to the Gentiles as a consequence.
Notice the way the Gospel of Matthew shows the Lord Jesus gradually turning from the nation of Israel, in preparation for His new work of building the church after the Day of Pentecost:
Matthew 11:20-30- He rebukes the cities where most of His mighty works were done; thanks His Father for His wise purposes; indicates that the Father has committed all things into His hands; turns to the individuals in the nation with the words, “Come unto Me”, 11:28.
12:1-8- an appeal to an incident when David, the anointed king, was on the run from Saul, 1 Samuel 21:1-6.
12:9-13- a man with a withered hand. King Jereboam had been judged like this for stretching out his hand against a man of God; how much more dangerous is it for the rulers to seek to destroy the Son of God, 1 Kings 13:1-4. Compare also Zechariah 11:17, where the idol shepherd is Antichrist.
12:14-21- The Pharisees seek to destroy God’s Beloved and Elect One, and He will show judgement to the Gentiles, and in Him shall the Gentiles trust.
12:22-23- the blind and dumb man represents the nation, blind to His glories, and dumb in His praise. The people recognise that He does not hate the blind as David did, 2 Samuel 5:8. Note that when blind men are cured in Matthew there is always a reference to Him as Son of David, 9:27; 12:22,23; 21:9-14.
12:24-37- Unable to deny that Christ performed miracles, the Pharisees assert that He did them by the power of Satan. This is sin against the Holy Ghost, for it was by His power that the works were done, and to equate the Holy Spirit with the Devil is blasphemy. This shows how far the nation had gone in its rejection of Christ.
12:38-42- Sign of Jonah the prophet who went to the Gentiles, who repented; sign of Queen of Sheba who came from the Gentiles, and believed; both are indications of the change in God’s dealings which would take place after the death and resurrection of Christ.
12:43-45- the nation is labelled a wicked generation, influenced by evil spirits in its opposition to Christ.
12:46-50- those who have the closest natural ties are put after those who have spiritual links with Christ. No claim can be made upon Christ because He is a fellow Jew.
13:1-52- The mysteries of the kingdom of heaven expounded. The king does not wield a sword, but sow seed. Note the significant move out of the house (of Israel), to the seaside, (the wider world of the Gentiles). In verse 36 there is a return to the house, for after the church age there will be those in Israel who will need to be aware of God’s plans for the end of the age of tribulation. The disciples represent these at this point, just as they do in Matthew 10, where in verse 25 they are told they will have not have gone over the cities of Judah before Christ comes. Clearly not a reference to the disciples personally.
13:53-58- Christ’s claims to be Son of God are rejected in the words, “Is not this the carpenter’s son?” Unbelief marks the nation to such an extent that it hinders the works of Christ.
14:1-12- A similar situation to when Herod the Great, (Herod the Tetrarch’s father), slaughtered the innocents. The hostility of the authorities is unchanged. Verses 3-12 refer to an incident two years before, for Matthew is highlighting the fact that attitudes have not altered. Compare Luke 3:19, 20, where the imprisonment of John is recorded, even though he is about to baptise Christ. This emphasises the fact that the baptism of Christ indicated His commitment to rejection and suffering.
14:13-21- A startling contrast is now presented. Herod, on his birthday (when he could be expected to be in a good mood for once), in his hatred, gives John the Baptist’s head on a dish, whereas Christ in compassion feeds 5000 with bread.
14:22-36- The disciples alone on the lake, with Christ praying on the mountain, and then coming to them. One of Matthew’s dispensational pictures, telling of believers passing through much trouble, (the storm on the lake), but sustained by the intercession of Christ on high. The disciples are being prepared for the absence of the King, who, nonetheless, as a King-Priest, makes intercession for them on high. This will also have meaning for tribulation saints.
15:1-20- The nation exposed for its hypocrisy, preferring the teachings and traditions of men to the commandments of God.
15:21-28- Gentile “dog” blessed. Note that the Lord uses the word for dog that means a little dog, the family pet, rather than the scavengers of the streets. He thus shows His gentleness and compassion, for “A bruised reed shall He not break, and smoking flax shall He not quench…and in His name shall the Gentiles trust”, Matthew 12:20,21.
15:29-39- healing of multitudes, (note lame and blind mentioned first), on mountain, the symbol of a kingdom, then the feeding of the 4000. Matthew is presenting a foretaste of the millenial age before he tells us of the prediction of the church age. So the kingdom is emphasised both before and after the prophecy regarding the church.
16:1-4- Demand for a sign from the Pharisees and Sadducees, both of whom had rejected the testimony of Christ’s miracle ministry. No further sign to be given, except that of His death and resurrection, as pictured in the experience of Jonah. Fair weather symbolised His works of mercy. Foul weather, the judgements coming upon the nation, whether at AD 70 or in the tribulation period. See 1 Thessalonians 2:15,16. Caesarea Phillipi was the scene of much bloodshed when the Romans suppressed the Jewish rebellion as AD 70 approached.
16:5-12- warning about moral leaven in preparation for church age conditions. The leaven of the Pharisees is the evil of mere outward profession of religion. The leaven of the Sadducees is evil of rationalism, and the doubting of God’s word. Both these things would prove a snare during the age of the church.
16:13 When Jesus came into the coasts of Caesarea Philippi- named after Caesar, so a Gentile atmosphere prevails here. But world politics will not prevent the church being built. The disciples, just local fisherman, familiar only with the shores of Galilee, are going to be sent into all the world. There was a temple dedicated to the god Pan here, but world religion will not prevent God’s purpose through the church. Nearby one of the sources of the Jordan (the river of death and judgement), gushed out of the rock, but all that was brought in by sin is overcome by Christ. This place is the site of a decisive battle in the days of the Greek empire, but a more decisive battle was won by Christ at Calvary, and no force is of power to frustrate His ongoing purpose to build the church. The area was one of great natural beauty, yet nothing can compare with heavenly realities. He asked His disciples saying, “Whom do men say that I the Son of man am”?- That is, what is result of My ministry? What think ye of Christ is always the test, Matthew 22:41-46. “If ye believe not that I am He, ye shall die in your sins”, John 8:24. Those described as men are the multitudes, in contrast to the Pharisees, whose opinion was obvious. Son of man- relevant man and real man. His title in relation to all men, as opposed to Son of Abraham and Son of David which link Him with Israel, and Son of God which tells of His relationship to God.
16:14 And they said, “Some say that Thou art John the Baptist- the committed, uncompromising, unworldly, preacher. Some, Elias- the courageous, reforming, miracle-worker, (unlike John the Baptist, who did no miracles, John 10:41). And others, Jeremias- the weeping prophet, who the Rabbis said was the man of sorrows in Isaiah 53. Or one of the prophets- the good qualities of all the prophets were seen in Christ. This was no surprise, for the prophets were born of God, and therefore had the life of God. It was to be expected that they would display some of the characteristics of the Lord Jesus, who is God manifest in flesh. They should have said that the prophets were like Him, not He was like the prophets. Note there is no reference to Moses, despite Deuteronomy 18:15-19. See Acts 3:22,23. They found no legality in Christ, but nonetheless they should have believed He was the one Moses spoke of. In Luke 9:7-9 Herod and the people wonder whether Christ is one of these men risen from the dead, so they do not give the Lord credit even for being the Son of Man in His own right, but simply (and superstitiously) think Him to be a resurrected prophet.
16:15 He saith unto them, “But whom say ye that I am?- “Ye” and “I are emphatic. “Ye” in contrast to men, “I” in contrast to the imaginary Christ men spoke of. “But” anticipates the better answer of the apostles.
16:16 And Simon Peter answered- The name Simon means hearing, so he had lived up to his name. Peter is the Greek form of the name given him by Christ in John 1:42. So the two names give the order of his experience. Simon when he heard and responded to God’s word through Christ, Peter when born again, ready to be built into the church on the Day of Pentecost. Thou art the Christ- that is, the Messiah of Old Testament prophecy. The Son of the Living God- the subject of New Testament revelation. The Living God, in contrast to Pan, the lifeless idol of the heathen, whose temple was not far away. Note living things in Peter’s epistles. There is no attempt to compare Him with others, for this is impossible if He is the Son of God. It is sad, however, to hear Peter putting Christ on a level with Moses and Elijah in 17:4.
16:17 Blessed art thou, Simon Bar-Jona- a reference back to John 1:42, “Thou art Simon the son of Jona. Thou shalt be called Cephas, which is by interpretation, a stone”. Peter now comes into the good of the dwelling with Christ that Andrew and his companion had experienced the previous day. He himself would later write of coming to Christ as a living stone, and being built up a spiritual house, 1 Peter 2:4,5. The Hebrew word for son comes from the word to build, for a man’s house, or family, was built up by sons. (See Exodus 1:21, where God blessed the midwives with children, or “built them houses”). The use of the word bar for son is said to show Christ spoke in Aramaic. Flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee- Peter had not “received by tradition from the fathers”, 1 Peter 1:18. But My Father which is in heaven- as already indicated, the name Simon means “hearing”, so Peter has listened to the word from the Father as He spoke in Christ. “He that heareth my word, and believeth (on) Him that sent me” (when He speaks through Me), John 5:24. The particular word in question was on the subject of His Deity. “My doctrine is not mine, but His that sent me”, John 7:16. “Every man therefore that hath heard, and hath learned of the Father, cometh unto Me”, John 6:45. “God…hath spoken unto us in His Son”, Hebrews 1:2.
16:18 And I say also unto thee- not “I also say”, as if what the Father said is now followed by what the Son says. Rather, it is “but I say also”, continuing to speak for My Father. This indicates the equal authority of Christ, and establishes His authority over the church. That thou art Peter- as interpreted by John l:42, this means a stone. So Peter is distinguished from the rock, but is linked with build. And upon this rock- not “upon thee”, but upon this, that you have just stated.
The following points should be borne in mind-
The truth of the Sonship of Christ is foundational. “Other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ”, 1 Corinthians 3:11. (If it is essential that He be the foundation of the local assembly, it is clearly vital that He be the foundation of the whole church). See also the words of Peter himself in 1 Peter 2:6; and also Isaiah 28:16, from which he quotes.
The Rabbis described Abraham as the rock on which the earth was founded, so the idea of a system built upon a person was not foreign to the Jews.
The word for Peter is “petros”, a masculine word meaning stone or rock. The word for rock is “petra” a feminine word which always and only means rock. A “petros” takes character from a “petra”, just as believers are said by Peter to be partakers of the Divine nature, (and God Himself is called a Rock in Deuteronomy 32:4,15,18,30,31).
Peter himself referred to the Lord Jesus as a stone when he was addressing the builders of Israel in Acts 4:5-13. It is true that the word he used, as also in 1 Peter 2:4,5,6,7,8 is “litho”. But this is the word that is used of the stones of the Temple in Jerusalem, Matthew 24:2.
Peter would be a poor foundation, since he is called Satan in verse 23.
Peter refers to Christ as a Living Stone, and believers as living stones built upon Him, 1 Peter 2:4,5. It is not possible for Peter to be the foundation, and also be built on the foundation.
He never suggests that he is the stone, as the Roman Catholics teach. Pope Pius 4th decreed that nothing should be taught that the fathers are not agreed upon. They are evenly divided, and Augustine changed his view, and said all should believe what they like about it! The statistics are as follows: 17 of the Fathers said the rock was Peter; 44 said it was Peter’s faith; 16 said the rock was Christ; 8 said that it was all the apostles.
I will build my church- note that this is a future work, for there is no suggestion in Scripture that Old Testament believers are part of the church. The truth regarding the church was a mystery hidden in God, (not even in God’s word), until revealed through the apostle Paul. See notes on Ephesians 3. The verb to build is continuous in the future, and does not just refer to stones being built on the Rock at conversion, but also their constant edification, Ephesians 4:12; 2:20. “Groweth unto a holy temple in the Lord”, Ephesians 2:21. Evangelist and teacher both build on Christ’s behalf. The word for build is to build a house, so the idea is of a homely place. Note that the Lord Jesus Himself takes full responsibility for the work of building, even though in practice He uses those men that He gives as gifts to edify and build up, Ephesians 4:11-16. And the gates of hell (hades) shall not prevail against it- the only member of the church to go to Hades is the Head of the church, even Christ. He now has the keys to lock the gate so that no Christian goes there. Also, He now has the key of death to ensure that every Old Testament believer comes out from there, Revelation 1:18. The Church’s proper place is in association with Christ in resurrection, and is not an earthly concept at all. It has to do with things before the foundation of the world, Ephesians 1:4, whereas Israel, God’s earthly people, will enter a kingdom prepared from the foundation of the world, Matthew 25:34.
16:19 And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven- the kingdom of heaven is the sphere of profession, for sons of the kingdom of heaven can be cast out into outer darkness, Matthew 8:11,12, whereas only those born again can enter the kingdom of God; there are no mere professors there, John 3:3,5. Jewish scribes were given a symbolic key when they entered their profession. “Woe unto you lawyers, for ye have taken away the key of knowledge: ye entered not in yourselves, and them that were entering in ye hindered”, Luke 11:52. “Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisee, hypocrites! For ye shut up the kingdom of heaven against men: for ye neither go in yourselves, neither suffer them that are entering to go in”, Matthew 23:13. Peter is given a special role in the matter of entering the kingdom of heaven, for he will be the one to first announce the gospel to Jews and Gentiles. He will also be the first to lay the doctrinal foundation of Christianity after Pentecost, being given a right perspective on things in view of the change in God’s dealings with men. It is a mistake to think that Peter never really understood the truth of the church. When he writes about “things hard to be understood” in 2 Peter 5:16, he was not telling of his personal difficulty, but that of others. Peter uses his keys at Pentecost and in the house of Cornelius. He lets in a Gentile even though he is the apostle to circumcision, Galatians 2:8,9. Paul, the apostle to Gentiles, had passed through Caesarea to go to Tarsus, Acts 9:30, but he was not chosen to go to Cornelius. Even Philip the evangelist, who lived at Caesarea, Acts 8:40, was not used to open the door of faith unto the Gentiles, Acts 14:27. Note that Peter was not given either the keys to heaven, the keys of the kingdom of God, or the keys to the church. It is only the kingdom of heaven, the sphere of profession that he is given authority in. He cannot decide who goes to heaven, nor can he forgive sins, which God alone can do, Luke 5:21,24. And whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: And whatsoever thou shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven- Peter’s confession was a confession of faith, which all must make if they are to be saved. So as an evangelist, it was Peter’s responsibility to see to it that the truth of the sinfulness of man was impressed upon his hearers, and so bind their sins to them, and then tell them the good news of the forgiveness of sins in Christ, and so loose them if they professed to believe. See how he did this in Acts 2:35, (they are enemies of Christ), verse 36, (they are guilty of crucifying Him), and verse 38, (they need to repent of their sins). In this way he bound the sins to the people by his preaching. Then in verse 38 he held out the prospect of the remission of sins, and thus gave them the opportunity of being loosed from their sins. So also, when he opened the kingdom of heaven to the Gentiles with his other key. He declares that God has appointed Christ to be judge of the living and the dead, Acts 10:42, with its implications with regard to Cornelius’ sins. Then he tells of the possibility of being loosed, as he speaks of the remission of sins in verse 43. The words bound and loosed were used by the rabbis in this way. Peter’s statement about the Lord Jesus is also a confession of truth, and as a “scribe instructed unto the kingdom of heaven”, Matthew 13:52, and as a steward over his Lord’s household, Luke 12:41-44, (words spoken firstly to Peter), he was to guide the saints into the truth, and as such, must set out what is allowed and what is not. The Lord commanded him with the words “When thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren”, Luke 22:32, and 1 Peter 4:10,11 shows that what the apostles gave were commandments from the Lord Himself. In this context, to bind meant to declare to be binding conduct. To loose meant to release from obligation. In this way, the church is built upon the (doctrinal) foundation of the apostles and prophets, Ephesians 2:20. Notice how the apostle is quick to add that Jesus Christ is the chief corner stone, holding the whole building together, and giving it alignment.
16:20 Then charged He His disciples that they should tell no one that He was Jesus the Christ- Clearly a temporary measure, since this was one of the main teachings of the apostles post-Pentecost. Given that He is rejected by the nation, it was inappropriate to make Him known in His national capacity. Individual faith was still a possibility. We also note that the disciples as a body are addressed now, instead of Peter alone.
16:21 From that time forth began Jesus to show unto His disciples- consistent with His word to them in the previous verse. The making known for the first time of the truth regarding the church marks a definite stage in the dealings of God, and the Lord must be made known appropriately. He is not Jesus the Messiah to the church, specifically, but Christ the Lord. As Messiah He is king, as Lord He is head. How that He must go unto Jerusalem- note the “must” of determination to do God’s will. Jerusalem is the city of the great king, but He goes there to hang upon a cross, not sit upon a throne. It is interesting to notice that Matthew only records the presence of Christ in Jerusalem at His temptation, 4:5. Although qualified to reign by His total refusal of the Devil’s offer, and despite the fact that in His Royal Address in Matthew 5-7 He describes Jerusalem as the city of the great king, Matthew 5:35, He nonetheless only goes to Jerusalem to die. This is all the more noticeable because Luke records the journeys of Christ to Jerusalem as early as chapter 9 of his gospel. And suffer many things of the elders and chief priests and scribes- “your rulers”, Acts 3:17, “you builders”, Acts 4:11. The main opinion-formers and leaders in Israel will reject Him, because they prefer human wisdom to Divine revelation. The elders would correspond, perhaps, to the idea of king, (elders would make decisions in the gate, like Absalom of old, who sat in the gate and turned the hearts of the people against David, 2 Samuel 15:1-6). Chief priests would seek to maintain the Levitical order, and the scribes would correspond to the prophets. And be killed- that He would be killed would make many think that He was not, after all, the true Messiah. In fact, such scriptures as Isaiah 53 would show that He who suffered and died, was the root out of a dry ground, the root of David. Note the violence of the language- killed, a deliberate, cold-blooded outrage upon justice and decency. They killed the prince of life and desired a murderer instead. And be raised again the third day- the Divine response to the killing is the raising. By prophesying these things, the Lord is putting His reputation as a “man that hath told you the truth” to the test. The mark of a prophet sent from God is that his words come true, Deuteronomy 18:15-19, Acts 3:22,23.
16:22 Then Peter took Him, and began to rebuke him, saying, Be it far from Thee Lord- Perhaps feeling some special authority was his since he had been given great responsibilities in verse 19, Peter acts in typically hasty manner. Instead of taking in the truths being unfolded about Christ’s death and resurrection, he seeks to prevent it. Filled with Jewish feelings about the Messiah, he thinks only in terms of a Messianic reign. This shall not be unto Thee- His determination was still strong in Gethsemane, where he used a sword to try to prevent the arrest. We must beware of zeal that is not in company with knowledge, Romans 10:2; 1 Timothy 1:13.
Thankfully his zeal was channelled into righteous actions after Pentecost. Even though he was led on that occasion to quote a passage which spoke of the Day of the Lord, he quoted it only to speak of salvation, Acts 2:16-21.
16:23 But He turned, and said unto Peter- by physically turning, the Lord confronted Peter personally, looking him in the eye, so to speak, and thus spoke directly to him, and not to the others. Get thee behind Me, Satan, thou art an offence unto Me- Peter was no doubt taken aback by this stern rebuke. When the Devil sought worship from Christ, he was dismissed immediately, lest anything come between the Lord Jesus and his Father, whom He set always before His face, which was why He was not moved away from God’s will, Psalm 16:8. Peter is seeking to hinder Christ’s progress to the cross by placing the stumblingblock of Jewish prejudice in the way. In fact, he himself was the offence, or stumblingblock. Cf. Peter’s reference to Christ in 1 Peter 2:8 as a rock of offence, “petra skandalon”. There the person of Christ offends Israel because He is not what they expected. Note that whereas in verse 18 Peter is addressed as one who is a stone, now he is a stumblingblock. This shows the folly of thinking that Peter is the rock foundation of the church. This lesson is reinforced by the fact that the Lord calls him Satan. For thou savourest not the things that be of God, but those that be of men- note that men, when they act contrary to God’s will, are doing the Devil’s work, for Peter is governed by Jewish thoughts, yet is addressed as Satan, for the Lord pinpoints the source of the evil. Savour means to mind, regard, to take a side; “Thou art on man’s side, not God’s”.
16:24 Then said Jesus unto His disciples, If any man will come after Me- When He has shown that the cross and suffering are definitely ahead, then the call to discipleship can be issued. A true disciple will count the cost before he sets out, Luke 14:25-35. Will speaks of “desire”, not simply a future event. Those who follow Christ must be aware that He was heading for a cross, not a crown. Let him deny himself- nothing must stand in the way of this commitment. Self is a major obstacle to full devotion. And take up his cross and follow Me- The cross of Christ is unique, but the true follower will not shrink from fellowship with Christ in the rejection the cross represents. In this way His cross becomes ours. The teaching regarding the cross is brought out in Paul’s epistles- Galatians 1, “I am crucified with Christ”; Romans 6, “Our old man was crucified with Christ”; Galatians 5, “They that are Christ’s have crucified the flesh”; Galatians 6, “The cross…by which the world is crucified to me, and I unto the world”.
16:25 For whosoever will save his life shall lose it- the word for life is soul, the person. To save one’s person is to live for self, and is the opposite of denying self. The cross puts an end to self. And whosoever will lose his life for My sake shall find it- To lose life is to give up one’s own interests in favour of Christ’s. Note it must be “for My sake”, not with the thought of gaining merit, and certainly not as a form of penance, that neglecting of the body which is condemned in Colossians 2:23, and which in fact is satisfying to the flesh. Find it- at the Judgement Seat of Christ it will be found in the form of reward, and at Christ’s appearing it will be found in the form of glory for the One who made it possible, and for the enjoyment of life in the kingdom. Compare 1 Peter 1:7, “found unto praise and honour and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ”. Then, “Whom having not seen (as He will be when He comes to earth), ye love”. Love to Christ will displace love for self.
16:26 For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?- Such a one will “find” nothing at the end of a life seeking gain for himself. In the light of eternity, to gain everything material is to lose everything eternal. See Philippians 3:7, “What things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ”. Or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?- As a man looks back over a wasted life, (even if he has gained the whole world), he realises that all he has accumulated is not enough to buy back lost opportunities. Compare Ephesians 5:16, “Redeeming the time, for the days are evil”, or in other words, “take the hours of the day to the marketplace and sell to the highest bidder, thus putting a high value on them, for days spent as the world spends them are evil and worthless”.
16:27 For the Son of Man shall come- Here the Lord looks on to the day when He does come to reign, and when His followers shall be with Him, and when He shall be glorified in His saints, 2 Thessalonians 1:10. The degree He is glorified then will be the degree we have denied ourselves in favour of His interests now. In the glory of His Father with His angels- Only those things which glorify Christ can be associated with the glory of His Father, and be on display in that day. Other things will have been burnt up. His angels excel in strength and fly swiftly to do heaven’s bidding, and this zeal should mark the believer. And then shall He reward every man according to his works- Reward means recompense. The self-denial has meant hardship, and in the day of glory this will be recompensed. Note that denying self is not a negative thing, for it produces works.
16:28 Verily I say unto you, There be some standing here, which shall not taste of death, till they see the Son of Man coming in His kingdom- a reference to the vision seen on the holy mount, which confirmed the Old Testament prophecies, 2 Peter 1:16. Note that the preview of the kingdom is given after the revelation about the church, to assure us that the church does not replace the kingdom. The “some” were Peter, James and John.