The Demand for a Sign
16:1 Now when the Pharisees and Sadducees came to test Jesus, they asked him to show them a sign from heaven.
The Pharisees and Sadducees – The presence of just one definite article indicates that they were working together (unusual for two groups who were so bitterly opposed to one another). They are mentioned together only here and in Mt 3:7.
Tested him by asking him to show them a sign from heaven – ‘The Pharisees could not very well deny his extraordinary powers but they tried hard to convince themselves and others that these were nothing but black magic, straight out of hell. Besides, were they not merely “earthly” signs? What they are once again asking for is “a sign from heaven.” Let him cause manna to drop from the sky, as (according to their view) Moses had done (Exod. 16; cf. John 6:32). Or, like Joshua, by means of prayer let him cause the sun and the moon to stand still (Josh. 10:12–14). Or again, as in the days of Deborah and Barak, let him make the stars to fight for Israel (Judg. 5:20). Or, in imitation of Samuel, let him, by means of a fervent petition, draw down a thunderstorm to discomfit the “Philistines” of his own day, that is, the Romans (1 Sam. 7:10). Let him at least not lag behind Elijah whose imploration brought an instantaneous response of “fire from heaven” (1 Kings 18:30–40).—As if, had he done any of these things, or anything of a similar sensational nature—see on 12:38, 39—these bitter foes, driven by envy, would not have ascribed also such a sign to Beelzebul as its source!’ (Hendriksen)
16:2 He said, “When evening comes you say, ‘It will be fair weather, because the sky is red,’ 16:3 and in the morning, ‘It will be stormy today, because the sky is red and darkening.’ You know how to judge correctly the appearance of the sky, but you cannot evaluate the signs of the times.
“The signs of the times” – ‘It is interesting that this dubious text is the only New Testament occurrence of the phrase, often used today in relation to eschatological predictions, but here referring to discerning the signals of Jesus’ earthly ministry (particularly such “signs” as have just been recorded in Mt 15:21-39).’ (France)
16:4 A wicked and adulterous generation asks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of Jonah.” Then he left them and went away.
Then he left them and went away – ‘His withdrawal is emotional and judicial as well as geographical.’ (Carson)
The Yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees
16:5 When the disciples went to the other side, they forgot to take bread. 16:6 “Watch out,” Jesus said to them, “beware of the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” 16:7 So they began to discuss this among themselves, saying, “It is because we brought no bread.”
The Pharisees and Sadducees – The first were prone to legalism, the second to liberalism.
Yeast – a common symbol for evil, carrying the idea that a little will spread insidiously through the whole.
Gurnall remarks that false teachers are ‘too wise to stuff their discourses with nothing but heterodox matter: precious truths dropped from them, with which they sprinkled their corrupt principles, yet with such art as should not easily be discerned. This, as one observes, our Saviour warns his disciples of, when he bids them ‘beware of the leaven of the Pharisees;’ that is, of their errors. But why leaven? For the secret mixture of it with the wholesome bread; you do not make your bread all of leaven, none would then eat it, but crumble a little into a whole batch, which sours all.’
16:8 When Jesus learned of this, he said, “You who have such little faith! Why are you arguing among yourselves about having no bread? 16:9 Do you still not understand? Don’t you remember the five loaves for the five thousand, and how many baskets you took up? 16:10 Or the seven loaves for the four thousand and how many baskets you took up? 16:11 How could you not understand that I was not speaking to you about bread? But beware of the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees!”
Refusing to spoon-feed them, Jesus simply repeats the warning.
16:12 Then they understood that he had not told them to be on guard against the yeast in bread, but against the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees.
16:13 When Jesus came to the area of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?”
This Caesarea was in Herod Philip’s tetrarchy, about 25 mi (40 km) N of the Sea of Galilee. This town was situated at the foot of Mount Hermon. This area is on the edge of Jewish territory, quiet and green and cool. Jesus would be able to teach without being mobbed by people seeking healing.
“Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” – Jesus is obviously referring to himself as ‘the Son of Man’. This would have been, to Jewish ears, a clear claim to Messiahship. So writes H.P. Liddon: ‘In the vision of Daniel “One like unto the Son of Man (Daniel 7:13) had come with the clouds of Heaven, and there was given Him dominion and glory and a kingdom.” This kingdom succeeded in the prophet’s vision to four inhuman kingdoms, correspondent to the four typical beasts; it was the kingdom of a prince, human indeed, and yet from Heaven. In consequence of this prophecy the “Son of Man” became a popular and official title of the Messiah. Our Lord, in His prophecy over Jerusalem, predicted that at the last day “they shall see the Son of Man coming in the clouds with power and great glory” (Matthew 24:30). And when standing at the tribunal of Caiaphas He thus addressed His judges: “I say unto you, hereafter shall ye see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of power, and coming in the clouds of Heaven” (Matthew 26:64). In these passages there is absolutely no room for doubting either His distinct reference to the vision in Daniel, or the claim which the title Son of Man was intended to assert. As habitually used by our Lord, it was a constant setting forth of His Messianic dignity in the face of the people of Israel.”‘
16:14 They answered, “Some say John the Baptist, others Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”
“Some say John the Baptist” – Herod saw him as a ‘John redivivus’, Mk 6:16, and the present passage suggests that he was not alone in this, even though the two had been seen together.
“Elijah” – The concept of an ‘Elijah redivivus’ is derived from Mal 3:1 4:5. John the Baptist came ‘in the spirit and power of Elijah’, Lk 1:17. Jesus himself had linked this with John the Baptist, Mt 7:13. But both Elijah and John were forerunners of Christ, but not Christ himself.
Jeremiah – In Jesus’ day, some of the people likened him to Jeremiah, Mt 16:14. It is true that both suffered abuse and rejection, and both expressed great sorrow and compassion for their people, but in their present lostness and in their impending disaster. But, more specifically, both stood out against the whole direction that the ntion was going in. Jeremiah was branded a traitor, Jer 37:11-15, was imprisoned more than once, was assaulted, Jer 20:1-2, and almost lynched, Jer 26. He was not viewed merely as a crank: he was reviled as a critic and a threat. So it was with Jesus. Although the common people heard him gladly, the same words which they welcomed provoked bitter opposition from the religious and political leaders. He was constantly swimming against the tide. Both Jesus and Jeremiah declared that Israel was on a collision course with the judgement of God. (See Wright, Knowing Jesus Through the Old Testament, 234)
‘Every kind of opinion appears to have been current, excepting that one which was true.’ (Ryle)
‘To the people these may have been attributes of high honour, but they fell hopelessly short of the truth. They assigned to Jesus a role which was preparatory rather than definitive, subordinate rather than supreme, Jesus did not come to point to another, but was himself that other to whom all the prophets pointed.’ (Lewis, The Glory of Christ, 158f)
All of this suggests that it is possible to have views of Jesus which are not entirely incorrect, and yet which are inadequate, because they make him a forerunner of someone else. They also define Jesus in terms of what we already know.
16:15 He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” 16:16 Simon Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”
“But what about you?” – ‘But now…comes the rapier-thrust that transfers theology from an armchair discussion to an uncomfortable dialogue between God and us.’ (Cole)
‘Was Jesus just a man with some good ideas, one of many spiritual leaders? Or was he the true God, the one mediator, our only source of life and peace with the Father? It is not enough to know what others say about Jesus: you must know, understand, and accept for yourself that he is the Messiah. You must move from curiosity to commitment, from admiration to adoration. If Jesus were to ask you this question, how would you answer? Is he your Lord and Messiah?’ (Life Application)
“You are the Christ” – ‘This is the first time anyone in Matthew’s narrative has given Jesus the title Christ (‘the Messiah’), though Matthew himself has used it in Mt 1:1, 16, 17, 18; 2:4; 11:2.’ (NBC)
‘The recognition that Jesus is the Messiah is the point of intersection toward which all of the theological currents of the first half of the Gospel converge and from which the dynamic of the second half of the Gospel derives.’ (Lane)
‘This was a noble answer, when the circumstances under which it was made are duly considered. It was made when Jesus was poor in condition, without honour, majesty, wealth or power. It was made when the heads of the Jewish nation, both in Church and State, refused to receive Jesus as the Messiah. Yet even then Simon Peter says, “Thou art the Christ.” His strong faith was not stumbled by our Lord’s poverty andlow estate. His confidence was not shaken by the opposition of scribes and Pharisees, and the contempt of rulers and priests. None of these things moved Simon Peter. He believed that he whom he followed, Jesus of Nazareth, was the promised Saviour, the true Prophet greater than Moses, the long-predicted Messiah. He declared it boldly and unhesitatingly as the creed of himself and his few companions: “Thou are the Christ.”‘ (Ryle)
‘The confession…was a moment of revelation and insight. Nevertheless, the disciples failed to understand the significance of Jesus messiahship, and Mark underscores this failure after each of Jesus affirmations of his rejection and humiliation: Peter rebuked him, Mk 8:32; the disciples did not understand, and were afraid to ask, and reasoned who was greater, Mk 9:32ff; Jesus and John asked for the places of honour in his glory, and the others were indignant, Mk 10:35-37, 41. On each of these occasions Jesus called the Twelve to authentic discipleship involving humility, service and suffering, Mk 8:34-38; 9:33-37; 10:38-45.’ (Lane, on Mark)
Wright stresses (overstresses?) the political dimensions of Peter’s confession: ‘Calling Jesus “Messiah” doesn’t mean calling him “divine”, let alone “the second person of the Trinity”. Mark believes that Jesus was and is divine, and will eventually show us why; but this moment in the gospel story is about something else. It’s about the politically dangerous and theologically risky claim that Jesus is the true King of Israel, the final heir to the throne of David, that one before whom Herod Antipas and all other would-be Jewish princlings are just shabby little imposters. The disciples weren’t expecting a divine redeemer; there were longing for a king. And they thoughts they’d found one.’
16:17 And Jesus answered him, “You are blessed, Simon son of Jonah, because flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but my Father in heaven!
“This was not revealed to you by man” – As, for example, when Peter’s brother Andrew told him, “We have found the Messiah!” (Jn 1:41) Peter showed every sign of believing Andrew, but the notion of Messiahship which he entertained at the time were no doubt far from the truth.
16:18 And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overpower it.
“Peter…rock” – See note on Jn 1:41.
“On this rock I will build my church” –
“My church” – ‘The word ‘church’ (ekklesia) occurs only twice in the Gospels. In Mt 18:17 it refers to the local group of followers of Jesus gathered together to settle disputes among its members, while in Mt 16:18 it foreshadows the NT view of the universal church as Jesus’ continuing representative on earth. But other terms imply the same idea of a defined community: they are, e.g., God’s ‘little flock’ (Lk 12:32; cf. Mk 14:27 Jn 10:16), his family, (Mk 3:34-35; 10:29-30; Mt 10:25) and the guests at his banquet.’ (Mk 2:19; Mt 8:11-12; 22:1-14) (Lion)
The Churches of Christ argue that because our Lord refers to the church as ‘my church’ here the true church will be named accordingly. But this is to neglect other scriptural appellations of the people of God – ‘the church of God’, 1 Cor 10:32; Gal 1:13, ‘the assembly of the firstborn’, Heb 12:23, and so on.
“The gates of Hades will not overcome it” – ‘Hades’ stands for ‘death’ (not ‘hell’, as older translations suggested). The meaning then would seem to be that Jesus is promising that neither his own death, nor that of Peter, would prevent the church from pursuing its mission. ‘To say that the powers of death shall not prevail against the church is thus to say that it will not die, and be shut in by the gates of death. The words do not indicate an attack by the “powers of evil,” but simply the process of death…Peter is to be the foundation stone of Jesus’ new community of the restored people of God, a community which will last for ever.’ (R.T. France)
‘The emperor Diocletian set up a stone pillar on which was inscribed these words: For Having Exterminated The Name Christian From the Earth. If he could see that monument today, how embarrassed he would be! Another Roman leader made a coffin, symbolizing his intention “to bury the Galilean” by killing his followers. He soon learned that he could not “put the Master in it.” He finally surrendered his heart to the Savior, realizing that the corporate body of Christ and its living Head, the Lord Jesus, cannot be destroyed by the onslaught of mortal men.
The history of the church has been represented by the Waldensians in a picture of an anvil with many worn-out hammers lying all around it. Beneath this scene are the words: one Anvil-Many Hammers. Organized religion may fail; but the living organism composed of all born-again believers will stand forever. God is calling out of this world a people for his name who will dwell with him throughout eternity.’ Cf. 1 Pet 2:6-8.
The following tells of Hitler’s use of the swastika: ‘In the end, if his National Reich Church had been established, the swastika would have replaced the cross. Point 30 of the proposed National Reich Church’s 30-point program, drawn up during the war, read: “On the day of its foundation, the Christian cross must be removed from all churches, cathedrals, and chapels…. It must be superseded by the only unconquerable symbol, the swastika.”
History is the commentary on the folly of Hitler’s dreams and on the futility of all who would seek to destroy the Church of Christ.’ Cf. 1 Cor 1:18.
16:19 I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind on earth will have been bound in heaven, and whatever you release on earth will have been released in heaven.”
“The keys of the kingdom” – France thinks that ‘the image of keys (plural) perhaps suggests not so much the porter, who controls admission to the house, as the steward, who regulates its administration.’ Carson, however, considers that the image is suggestive of allowing or barring entrance. Either way, this is an image of delegated authority, such as Peter exercised when he introduced and oversaw the church’s admission of Gentile believers, Acts 10-11.
‘The “keys of the kingdom,” first given to Peter and defined as power to bind and loose, have usually been understood as authority to formulate doctrine and impose discipline, an authority now given by Christ to the church in general and to commissioned pastors in particular.’ (Packer, Concise Theology)
‘The keys of a royal or noble establishment were entrusted to the chief steward or major domo; he carried them on his shoulder in earlier times, and there they served as a badge of the authority entrusted to him. About 700 B.C. an oracle from God announced that this authority in the royal palace in Jerusalem was to be conferred on a man called Eliakim: “I will place on his shoulder the key to the house of David; what he opens no one can shut, and what he shuts no one can open.” (Isa 22:22) So in the new community that Jesus was about to build, Peter would be, so to speak, chief steward. In the early chapters of Acts Peter is seen exercising this responsibility in the primitive church. He acts as chairman of the group of disciples in Jerusalem even before the coming of the Spirit at the first Christian Pentecost; (Ac 1:15-26) on the day of Pentecost it is he who preaches the gospel so effectively that three thousand hearers believe the message and are incorporated in the church; (Ac 2:41) some time later it is he who first preaches the gospel to a Gentile audience and thus “opens a door of faith” to Gentiles as well as Jews. (Ac 10:34-38) Both in Jerusalem at Pentecost and in the house of Cornelius at Caesarea, what Peter does on earth is ratified in heaven by the bestowal of the Holy Spirit on his converts. This divine confirmation was specially important in his approach to Gentiles. As Peter put it himself, “God, who knows the heart, showed that he accepted them by giving the Holy Spirit to them, just as he did to us. He made no distinction between us and them, for he purified their hearts by faith”.’ (Ac 15:8-9) (HSB)
Whatever you bind on earth will have been bound in heaven, and whatever you release on earth will have been released in heaven –
Bind…released – ‘It is best to understand this concept by recognizing first that Peter, by proclaiming “the good news of the kingdom” (4:23), opens the kingdom to many and shuts it against many (e.g., Ac 2:14–39; 3:11–26). By this means the Lord adds to the church those who are being saved, or, otherwise put, Jesus builds his church (Mt 16:18). But the same Gospel proclamation alienates and excludes people, so we also find Peter shutting up the kingdom from some (Ac 4:11–12; 8:20–23).’ (Carson)
But what about the tenses used here? They are translated in two main ways:-
NASB – ‘shall have been’
NIV, NRSV, Good News, New Living, – ‘will be’
AV, RSV, ESV – ‘shall be’
Some think that the future-perfect verbs used here ‘suggest that the heavenly decision preceded Peter’s declaration of it on earth’ (NCB).
So also Carson: ‘Peter is authoritative in binding and loosing only because heaven has acted first (cf. Ac 18:9–10). Those he ushers in or excludes have already been bound or loosed by God according to the Gospel already revealed, which Peter, by confessing Jesus as the Messiah, has most clearly grasped.’
But F.F. Bruce (Answers to questions, p49) says that the future-perfect tense ‘has the force of a specially emphatic future…When those to whom our Lord has given a specific commission act faithfully upon the terms of his commission, their decisions are assured of ratification in the heavenly court.’
16:20 Then he instructed his disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Christ.
First Prediction of Jesus’ Death and Resurrection
16:21 From that time on Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, chief priests, and experts in the law, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.
This (vv21-27) is the first of three occasions recorded by Matthew when Jesus predicted his own death. The others are Mt 17:22-23 and Mt 20:17-28.
16:22 So Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him: “God forbid, Lord! This must not happen to you!”
16:23 But he turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me, because you are not setting your mind on God’s interests, but on man’s.”
16:24 Then Jesus said to his disciples, “If anyone wants to become my follower, he must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me. 16:25 For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.
‘Vs. 16:24-28 This passage is on discipleship. Verses 13-20 are on messiahship; verses 21-23 are on the atonement; 17:1-8 concerns eschatology. These four passages together deal with the foundational truths of NT theology.’ (Ryrie)
Jesus said to his disciples – According to Mk 8:34 Jesus addressed these words to the crowd, as well as to the disciples.
‘Carrying the horizontal crossbeam en route to crucifixion (where the upright stake already stood awaiting the condemned person) meant enduring mockery and scorn on a path leading to death as a condemned criminal. Crucifixion was the worst form of criminal death, the supreme Roman penalty, inflicted only on the lower classes and slaves; even talk of it could evoke horror.’ (NT Background Commentary)
‘Now we see why it was so essential that Peter should grasp the conditions of Messiahship for Christ: otherwise, Peter could not grasp the conditions of discipleship for himself’ (Cole). These conditions were fulfilled literally for Peter, if we accept the tradition about Peter’s death at Rome. (cf. Jn 11:19)
‘It was the Lord’s intention that those who follow him should not be detached observers of his passion, but men who grow in faith and understanding through participation in his sufferings.’ (Lane, on Mark)
Take up his cross and follow me – ‘Follow my leader’. The Romans compelled a condemned man to carry his cross, or at least the cross-bar, to the place of execution. For the Christian to take up his cross means, accordingly, to count himself as good as dead. ‘When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.’ (Bonhoeffer) Much of modern psychology offers a path to self-discovery and self-esteem, but Jesus teaches that I must die (to self) in order to truly live, lose myself (that is, my self-centredness) in order to find myself.
‘Self-denial,’ writes John Stott, ‘is not denying to ourselves luxuries such as chocolates, cakes, cigarettes and cocktails (though it may include this); it is actually denying or disowning ourselves, renouncing our supposed right to be go our own way. “To deny oneself is…to turn away from the idolatry of self-centredness” (Cranfield). Paul must have been referring to the same thing when he wrote that those who belong to Christ “have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires” (Gal 5:24). No picture could be more graphic than that: an actual taking of hammer and nails to fasten our slippery fallen nature to the cross and thus do it to death. The traditional word for this is “mortification”; it is the sustained determination by the power of the Holy Spirit to “put to death the misdeeds of the body”, so that through this death we may live in fellowship with God.’ (The Cross of Christ, p279)
See Gal 6:14.
16:26 For what does it benefit a person if he gains the whole world but forfeits his life? Or what can a person give in exchange for his life?
‘What does it mean to lose our souls? To answer this question, Jesus uses his own solemn imagery—Gehenna (“hell” in Mk 9:47 and ten other Gospel texts), the valley outside Jerusalem where rubbish was burned; the worm that dieth not (Mk 9:47), an image, it seems, for the endless dissolution of the personality by a condemning conscience; fire for the agonizing awareness of God’s displeasure; outer darkness for knowledge of the loss, not merely of God, but of all good and of everything that made life seem worth living; gnashing of teeth for self–condemnation and self–loathing.’ (Packer, Knowing God)
16:27 For the Son of Man will come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will reward each person according to what he has done.
“The Son of Man is going to come in his Father’s glory” – Such an affirmation is found frequently in the Synoptics. (Mt 16:27; 24:30; 26:64; Mk 8:38; 13:26; Lk 21:27; 22:69) These saying ‘imply an exalted heavenly reign prior to the Parousia, but…the texts say nothing about how Jesus came to be in heaven.’ (DJG) This is consistent with the observation that the NT generally (Luke being the exception) is interested in Christ’s ascended status rather than how he ascended.
“He will reward each person according to what he has done” – Tom Wright comments that many Christians feel uncomfortable about the notion of ‘rewards’. After all, we have been justified by faith, and not by works. ‘The very idea of being a Christian for what we will get out of it is distasteful.’ But, says Wright, ‘the image of reward in the New Testament doesn’t work like that. It isn’t a matter of calculation, of doing a difficult job in order to be paid a wage. It is much more like working at a friendship, or a marriage, in order to enjoy the other person’s company more fully. It is more like practising golf in order that we can go out on the course and hit the ball in the right direction. It is more like learning German or Greek so that we can read some of the great poets and philosophers who wrote in those languages. The “reward” is organically connected to the activity, not some kind of arbitrary pat on the back, otherwise unrelated to the work that has been done. And it is always far in abundance beyond any sense of direct or equivalent payment.’ (Surprised by hope, p174)
16:28 I tell you the truth, there are some standing here who will not experience death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.”
Mt 16:28: Mk 9:1 Lk 9:27
Carson’s view (EBC) is that this verse refers to dramatic expansion of the church after the Resurrection.
Blomberg (NAC) thinks that the reference is to the Transfiguration, which is the next-mentioned event and is the foretaste of the Resurrection. 2 Pet 1:16-16 would seem to support this interpretation.