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MATTHEW - Chapter 16

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Matthew 16

Supplemental Commentary:

I.  PUBLIC MINISTRY OF JESUS   3-25 (continued)

4.  Ministry Mostly in the Regions Bordering on Galilee  15, 21 -- 18, 35 (continued)

15, 39 -- 16, 4:  The Pharisees and Sadducees Ask a Sign (continued).    16, 1.  We do not know why the Sadducees should have united forces on this occasion with their inveterate enemies the Pharisees, especially since the Sadducees, the rationalists among the Jews of that time, were hardly interested in a Messias at all.  Perhaps it was their affiliation with the pro-empire political party of the High Priests that made them hostile to Jesus.  A sign from heaven: see Commentary on 12, 38.    2-4b.  The two best Greek manuscripts omit the words, "When it is evening . . . signs of the times."  But since the vast majority of the manuscripts have these words, they are generally considered authentic.  Luke 12, 54-56 has a similar saying of our Lord, but it cites a different weather forecast.  The two passages are independent of each other.  In Matthew our Lord refers to a weather rule that is known to almost all peoples; cf. our "Red in the morning, sailors take warning; red at night, sailor's delight."  Signs of the times: the fulfillment of the prophecies in Jesus.    4b.  On the adulterous generation and the sign of Jonas see Commentary on 12, 39.

16, 5-12:  The Leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees.  Parallel in Mark 8, 13-21.  Cf. also Luke 12, 1.    5.  When his disciples crossed the sea: the sense seems to be, "While they were crossing the sea"; cf. Mark, where this incident takes place in the boat before they reached their destination.  They sailed from Magedan (Dalmanutha) to Bethsaida-Julias (Cf. Mark 8, 22) on their way towards Caesarea Philippi.  But "to cross the sea" does not necessarily mean to sail from the western shore to the eastern shore or vice versa.  Mark says that they had only one loaf of bread with them in the boat, but since this would be insufficient for the thirteen of them, Matthew makes no mention of it.    6.  Our Lord's thoughts are still on the Pharisees and Sadducees who had demanded a sign from heaven.  Therefore under the figure of leaven He warns His disciples to beware of their evil influence and of the evil principles of their teachings.  On the figurative use of the word "leaven" see Commentary on 13, 33.  Luke 12, 1 has this saying of Christ in a different context.  Instead of Sadducees Mark has "the leaven of Herod," perhaps in the sense of "the leaven of the Herodians" (cf. Matt. 22, 16; Mark 3, 6; 12, 13).  The leaven of these men, like that of the Sadducees, was the spirit of worldliness and rationalistic skepticism.    7.  The sense seems to be: They began to argue among themselves what He meant by this saying, and came to the conclusion that He said this because they had brought no bread with them (cf. 11).  Forgetting the teaching of their Master that no food was unclean (cf. 15, 11 ff), the disciples think that Jesus in true rabbinical fashion is giving them new precepts about unclean food.    8-12.  Christ's rebuke is even more severe in Mark.  For the two multiplications of the loaves of which He now reminds them, cf. 14, 13-21; 15, 32-38; and parallels.

16, 13-20:  Peter's Confession.  Parallels in Mark 8, 27-30 and Luke 9, 18-21.  This passage is of prime importance for the Messiasship and divinity of Jesus, the primacy of Peter and the nature of the Church.

13.  The scene is near the ancient Paneas, modern Banias, which Philip the Tetrarch had rebuilt and named Caesarea in honor of the Emperor.  It had the added title Philippi, i.e., of Philip, to distinguish it from several other Caesareas, notably the Caesarea in Palestine on the Mediterranean which is mentioned frequently in Acts.  Caesarea Philippi was situated in the southern foot-hills of Mount Hermon at one of the sources of the Jordan, about thirty miles north of the sea of Galilee.  The Son of Man is not synonymous with "Messias" here, or the answers of the disciples would be unintelligible.  Mark and Luke have given the question in a more exact form.  Or perhaps the original form of the question was, "Who do men say that I am, I who call myself the Son of Man?"  Jesus was not seeking information on this point; this question was merely an introduction for the important question in 15.    14.  It is rather remarkable that the disciples do not report that one of the popular opinions about Jesus considered Him to be the Messias.  Previously at least some of the people had acclaimed Him as the Son of David, a Messianic title (cf. 9, 27; 12, 23; 15, 22).  But ever since Jesus had refused a temporal kingship after the first multiplication of the loaves (cf. John 6, 15), the people were disappointed in the Messianic hopes that they once had in Him.  And others, Jeremias: only in Matthew.  Although there was no foundation for the opinion in the Old Testament, many Jews at this time thought that Jeremias had been taken up into heaven without dying and would come back to earth.

15.  Christ's second question is addressed to all the Apostles.  Although they all no doubt, with the exception of Judas (cf. John 6, 65.71 f), shared to a certain extent in the faith of Peter, and in a sense he acted as their spokesman, still he alone actually made the profession of faith in Jesus on this occasion and to him alone were the words of 17-19 spoken.    16.  Simon Peter: Matthew and Luke who refer to him here by his full name, stress the fact that it was on this occasion that Simon received the epithet of "the Rock" (Peter).  On the history of his name, see Commentary on 10, 2.  Mark gives the confession of Peter simply as, "Thou art the Christ."  Luke has, "The Christ of God."  Only the First Gospel records the additional words, "The Son of the living God" together with Christ's reply to Peter.  All the manuscripts of Matthew's Gospel contain these words; therefore no objection against their authenticity can be raised on textual grounds.  Nor have the objections of the higher critics any value here.  The other two Evangelists fail to record these words because their account of this incident is ultimately based on the preaching of St. Peter who omitted this encomium of himself out of humility.  The words Son of the living God might not of themselves prove that Peter was here proclaiming his faith in the divinity of Jesus.  The expression "Son of God" had been used before this time in Jewish apocryphal literature as a mere synonym for "Messias" with the simple meaning of "God's favorite, God's special envoy," etc.  The word living distinguishes the true God from the false gods of the pagans, mere lifeless idols; this word adds special solemnity to Peter's confession but does not affect the meaning of the word Son.

17.  However, from our Lord's answer to Peter it is certain that Peter meant these words in the strict theological sense of divine filiation.  For Jesus says that Peter learned this truth not from any human being or from any natural source but by a special revelation from the Father (cf. 11, 25-27).  Any one who had seen the miracles of Jesus could and should have been led by his natural reason to recognize Him as the Christ.  But not even from a knowledge of the Old Testament would one have known clearly that the Christ would be the very Son of God.  It also follows from these words of praise and reward that Jesus spoke to Peter, that this was the first occasion on which any one had publicly proclaimed his faith in the divinity of Jesus; therefore similar expressions of faith spoken on previous occasions (cf. 14, 33) were uttered without full realization of the truth of the words.  Blessed: literally, "Happy, fortunate, lucky."  Simon Bar-Jona: Jesus calls him by his full name to emphasize the importance of what He is about to say.  Bar-Jona means "son of Jona."  In John 1, 42 he is called "Simon, the son of John."  Either Simon's father had more than one name, a not uncommon custom of that time, or more probably Jona and Johannes are but variant forms of the original Hebrew name of Johannan.  Flesh and blood: a Hebrew expression meaning "mortal man" as contrasted with God.    18.  And I say to thee: the original may likewise be translated, "I also say to thee," with the sense that as Peter has given testimony of Jesus, so now Jesus also gives testimony of him, or more probably, as the Father has given Peter this revelation, so also Jesus gives him a special gift.  Our Lord said in Aramaic, "Thou art a rock (or, the rock) and upon this rick," etc.  The Greek translator of the Aramaic Gospel of St. Matthew, by translating the first "kepha" as a proper name, greatly weakened the force of Christ's words.  On the word Church, see note to the text.  There is emphasis also on the word my: this is the Church of the Son of God, a divine, not human institution.  The rock upon which Christ builds His Church is not merely such faith as Peter professed but Peter himself.  The gates of hell: cf. Job 38, 17; Pss. 9, 15; 106, 18; Wisd. 16, 13; Isa. 38, 10.  In all these passages the Hebrew has "the gates of Sheol" which the Greek renders either "the gates of Hades" or "the gates of Death."  Sheol or hades was the name of the abode of the dead.  The word gates is used in the Scripture not only for the large doors in the walls of a city but also for the open space at these doors where the authorities of a city held their meetings (cf. Deut. 21, 19; 25, 7; 2 Par. 32, 6; 2 Esdr. 8, 1; Job 31, 21; Isa. 29, 21; Amos 5, 12.15; Zach. 8, 16; etc.)  The whole expression in our passage means "the power of death."  Christ therefore predicts that His Church will be immortal.  Since it is principally Satan who would endeavor to destroy the Church, in an extended sense "the gates of hell" means the "power of Satan."

19.  He who has the keys of a house is the steward or administrator of that house (cf. Isa. 22, 22; Apoc. 3, 7).  The kingdom of heaven is here synonymous with the Church, God's kingdom on earth.  Peter is therefore made Christ's viceroy in governing His kingdom.  The common idea that St. Peter is the doorkeeper of heaven is based on a misunderstanding of this passage.  To bind is to declare authoritatively that something is obligatory, to loose is to declare authoritatively that something entails no moral obligation.  These Aramaic expressions are used several times in the Talmud in such a sense.  Christ therefore give Peter the power of making official statements on matters of faith and morals; his decisions will be ratified by God.  According to the context of 18, 18 these same expressions signify also the power to admit into and to exclude from the Christian community.  Therefore Peter is here given wide legislative, administrative and judicial powers, including and extending beyond the power to forgive and to retain sins (cf. John 20, 22 f).  Note that all the verbs in this passage are in the future, for the Church as such was not founded till after the Resurrection; only then did Christ actually bestow the primacy on St. Peter (cf. John 21, 15-17).  That Peter really exercised the primacy in the Apostolic Church is perfectly clear in Acts.  The few instances that are raised as objections by non-Catholic critics (cf. Acts 11, 2 ff; 15; 2 Cor. 11, 5; Gal. 2, 11; 1 Pet. 5, 1) can be explained as due to Peter's spirit of humility and conciliation, or to the special personal privileges that the other Apostles received from Christ.  Our Lord built His Church not on Peter alone but on all the Apostles (cf. Eph. 2, 20; Apoc. 21, 14).  To all of them He gave the power of "binding and loosing" and the power of forgiving and remitting sins (cf. Matt. 18, 18; 19, 28; John 20, 21-23).  But a group cannot act without a head.  St. Peter alone was made this head, and to him alone was given "the keys of the kingdom of heaven."    20.  For the reason of this strict command, see note to the text.

16, 21-23:  Passion and Resurrection Foretold.  Parallels in Mark 8, 31-33 and Luke 9, 22.    21.  From that time: i.e., after the Apostles have shown firm faith in Jesus; they should not now be scandalized by being told the full truth about Christ.  Our Lord had previously hinted at His coming death (cf. 9, 15; 12, 40; John 2, 19; 3, 14; 6, 52), but now "what he said he spoke openly" (Mark).  On two later occasions Jesus gave special instructions to His disciples about His passion, death and resurrection (cf. 17, 21 f; 20, 17-19; and parallels), on each occasion emphasizing some point in particular.  Here the emphasis is on His rejection by the leaders of the people, the very ones who should have given Him official recognition.    22 f.  Peter remonstrates with Jesus and is rebuked by Him.  Far be it from thee: literally in Greek, "God be good to thee," i.e., God forbid!  Peter is still so attached to the popular idea of the Messias as a triumphant temporal king that he does not want to understand the words of Jesus in their literal sense.  His endeavor to persuade Jesus to comply with the popular idea of the Messias and take His own crown without a cross is very similar to the temptation of the Devil in the desert (cf. 4, 9).  Therefore our Lord rejects this temptation of Peter in almost the same words that He spoke to Satan himself.    23.  He turned: most probably to be understood in the sense of Mark's "Turning and seeing his disciples"; i.e., Peter had taken Him aside in order to persuade Him in private, but Jesus rebukes him publicly before the other disciples.  They all had to learn this lesson.  Get behind me: i.e., "Get out of my way; thou art blocking my path towards the cross."  There is irony in the fact that the Rock on which Christ was to build His Church, should try to be a scandal, i.e., a "stone of stumbling" to Christ.  Dost not mind: dost not have a mind for it, an inclination and sense of perception for.  The things of God: Jesus had said that He must suffer; it was His Father's will as revealed in the prophecies of old (cf. Ps. 21; Isa. 53).

16, 24-28:  The Doctrine of the Cross.  Parallels in Mark 8, 34-39 and Luke 9, 23-27.  This passage is intimately connected with the preceding, for not only must Christ suffer first in order to enter into His glory, but His disciples must do the same.

24.  If anyone wishes: no one is forced; it must be an act of free will aided by Grace.  To come after me: to be my follower, my disciple.  Christ does not say directly that His disciples must deny certain pleasures "to himself," but that he must deny himself (direct object).  Just as Peter "denied" Christ, so also the disciple must say that he does not know  himself, his sinful self has no claim on his allegiance.  Take up his cross: figurative language borrowed from the custom of the time according to which a man condemned to crucifixion had to carry his own cross to the place of execution (see Commentary on John 19, 17).  That our Lord is using a metaphor is clear from the word "daily" in Luke.  The cross that the follower of Christ must willingly embrace is any suffering, even martyrdom itself, that results from being a true disciple of Christ.  Cf. 10, 38.    25.  Similar sayings of Christ in 10, 39; Luke 14, 26; 17, 33; John 12, 25.  In the original the word that is translated here twice as life is the same word that is translated twice in the next verse as soul.  This word is used both of the life-principle and life itself and indeed both in regard to the natural life and in regard to the supernatural life.  Therefore the sense is, "He who would save his mortal life by being unfaithful to me will lose his immortal life (his soul); but he who loses his mortal life for my sake will save his immortal life (his soul).    26.  In exchange for: literally, "as barter-value for"; nothing in the world has as much value as one's immortal soul.

27.  The sequence of thought here would not be clear, had we not the connecting verse in Mark and Luke which Matthew has in 10, 33.  The sense is: if a man disowns Christ in order to save his own life, Christ will disown him when He comes to judge the world.    28.  To taste death: an Aramaism, not occurring in the Old Testament but common in the Rabbinical writings, meaning simply "to die."  The Son of Man coming in his kingdom: cf. the variant expressions in Mark and Luke.  It is not certain what this refers to.  Some of the Apostles will see it; others will be dead before that time.  It cannot refer to Christ's coming at the end of the world when all the Apostles will long since have been dead.  Nor can it refer to some event in the near future, such as the Transfiguration, Resurrection or Ascension.  For all of the Apostles lived to see these events, which, moreover do not contain the element of retribution demanded by the context.  It probably refers to the destruction of Jerusalem in which Christ vindicated His honor by punishing the city that slew Him.  The destruction of Jerusalem is a type of the destruction of the world on the last day; as such, the expressions which refer properly to the one are also used analogously of the other.  See Commentary on 24, 15-35.

Confraternity Bible:

A Sign from Heaven 1 And the Pharisees and Sadducees came to him to test him, and they asked him to show them a sign from heaven.  2 But answering them he said, "When it is evening you say, 'The weather will be fair, for the sky is red.'  3 And in the morning you say, 'It will be stormy today, for the sky is red and lowering.'  4 You know then how to read the face of the sky, but cannot read the signs of the times!  An evil and adulterous generation demands a sign, and no sign shall be given it but the sign of Jonas."  And he left them and went away.

The Leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees  5 And when his disciples crossed the sea, they found that they had forgotten to bring bread.  6 And he said to them, "Take heed and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees!"  7 But they began to argue among themselves, saying, "We have brought no bread."  8 But Jesus knowing this, said, "You of little faith, who do you argue among yourselves that you have no bread?  9 Do you not yet understand, nor remember the five loaves among five thousand men, and how many baskets you took up?  10 Nor the seven loaves among four thousand, and how many large baskets you took up?  11 Why do you not understand that it was not of bread I said to you, 'Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees'?"  12 Then they understood that he bade them beware not of the leaven of bread, but of the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees.

Peter's Confession  13  Now Jesus, having come into the district of Caesarea Philippi, began to ask his disciples, saying, "Who do men say the Son of Man is?"  14 But they said, "Some say, John the Baptist; and others, Elias; and others, Jeremias, or one of the prophets."  15 He said to them, "But who do you say that I am?"  16 Simon Peter answered and said, "Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God."  17 Then Jesus answered and said, "Blessed art thou, Simon Bar-Jona, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to thee, but my Father in heaven.  18* And I say to thee, thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.  19* And I will give thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven; and whatever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.  20* Then he strictly charged his disciples to tell no one that he was Jesus the Christ.

Passion and Resurrection Foretold  21 From that time Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and Scribes and chief priests, and be put to death, and on the third day rise again.  22 And Peter taking him aside, began to chide him, saying, "Far be it from thee, O Lord; for this will never happen to thee."  23 He turned and said to Peter, "Get behind me, satan, thou art a scandal to me; for thou dost not mind the things of God, but those of men."

The Doctrine of the Cross  24 Then Jesus said to his disciples, "If anyone wishes to come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me.  25 For he who would save his life will lose it; but he who loses his life for my sake will find it.  26 For what does it profit a man, if he gain the whole world, but suffer the loss of his own soul?  Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?  27 For the Son of Man is to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will render to everyone according to his conduct.  28* Amen I say to you, there are some of those standing here who will not taste death, till they have seen the Son of Man coming in his kingdom."


18: Peter, in Greek Petros, is a masculine form from Petra, "rock."  In Aramaic the name meaning "rock" is Kepha; in Greek it took on the form Kephas.  Here in speaking of His Church our Lord means a society of men united to serve God as He had taught them to do.  Compared with an edifice, it is said to rest on a rock.  The rock was Peter.  Of course the strength of the foundation comes from Christ. --- The gates of hell: hostile, evil powers.  Their aggressive force will struggle in vain against the Church.  She shall never be overcome; she is indefectible.  And since she has the office of teacher (cf. 28, 16-20), and since she would be overcome if error prevailed, she is infallible.

19: Keys: a symbol of authority.  Peter has the power to admit into the Church and to exclude therefrom.  Nor is he merely the porter; he has complete power within the Church.  "To bind and loose" seems to have been used by the Jews in the sense of to forbid or to permit; but the present context requires a more comprehensive meaning.  In heaven, God ratifies the decisions which Peter makes on earth, in the name of Christ.

20: Jesus still maintains the secret of His real character.  On account of the prevalent views concerning the Messias and His kingdom, there was great danger that the people would think that He was to set up an earthy reign.

28: This saying should not be regarded as closely connected with the preceding saying about the Lord's coming in glory.  Here there is question not of Jesus' coming in glory but of another coming which establishes His kingdom on earth, probably that of Pentecost.