The Agora
Bible Commentary

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Matthew 16

Mat 16:1

Cp Jer 5:21-29; Eze 12:1-20: the prophets dealing with a stubborn and rebellious people.

Mat 16: "The drama of the work of the Messiah, took a dramatic turn in this chapter. The understanding of the apostles concerning the work and ministry of Yahshua was to be enhanced by a most remarkable occurrence. The narrative commences at the shores of Galilee, at a place called Magdala. So the record outlines: (1) Opposed at Magdala: vv 1-4. The Lord faced an evil alliance of the Pharisees and Sadducees, who opposed the doers of good. By resting on their understanding of typical sacrifices, the Pharisees denied the need of Christ's first advent. In the teaching of the Sadducees, there was a denial of the resurrection and therefore the Lord's second advent. (2) Discussion in the boat: vv 5-12. (3) The great confession: vv 13-16. Peter reveals the importance of Yahshua, as the unique Son of the Deity. This statement was later to condemn the Lord to crucifixion in the court of the Jews. (4) The ecclesial rock: vv 17-20. The Master outlines the purpose of his mission, and the foundation of the ecclesial work. (5) The first key: vv 21-23. The Lord reveals the nature of the first key to unlocking the Gospel message: that of personal sacrifice and identification with the crucifixion of the Lord. (6) How to apply the keys: vv 24-28. The measure of the cross is the means to the glory.

"Notice the important statement in v 20, and cp it with Mat 17:9. It is between these two scriptural pylons that the revelation of the kingdom keys is found. The first key speaks of sacrifice; the second key (Mat 17:1-9) is that of glory. Both elements are vital and fundamental to an understanding of the Truth (Heb 12:2)" (GEM).

AND TESTED HIM: Cp Mat 4 (the temptation in the wilderness) with Mat 16:4,8,16,23-25.

A SIGN FROM HEAVEN: There were signs from heaven, but none so explicit as to compel belief from the willfully disobedient. The ones who received "signs" were those with some degree of faith already, ie those who followed Christ for 3 days. As for the others (ie the Pharisees), no sign but Jonah (the resurrection). One day, they would have their sign: Mat 24:30; 26:64.

Or again, how blind they were! for Christ WAS the "sign from heaven", the bread from heaven (Joh 6:35...), who multiplied the loaves and warned against the false leaven of the Pharisees.

Mat 16:3

In early winter in Palestine the air is still full of summer dust. The buildup of rain clouds promotes this phenomenon (Geog 49).

Mat 16:4

A WICKED AND ADULTEROUS GENERATION: "Adulterous", like their "king" Herod (Mar 8:13)!

NONE WILL BE GIVEN: That is, no other sign except Christ himself, since they had rejected him. The same Shekinah glory they were now demanding had been nothing but darkness to the Egyptians. And these men were "Egyptians"! (Spiritually speaking, the Jews needed to follow their Saviour into the "wilderness" before they would see "signs" of deliverance! If they remained in "Egypt", in their minds, there would be no miraculous signs but their own deaths!)

EXCEPT THE SIGN OF JONAH: Gospel preached to Gentiles, after the "resurrection" of the prophet.

JESUS THEN LEFT THEM AND WENT AWAY: He never performs miracles merely to satisfy men's curiosity. Now begins his emphasis on the ecclesia: vv 16-19.

Mat 16:5

THE DISCIPLES FORGOT TO TAKE BREAD: "Except for one loaf" (Mar 8:14). Perhaps, subconsciously, they were not concerned any more with provisions. (One loaf was sufficient for Jesus to multiply.)

Mat 16:6

THE YEAST (LEAVEN) OF THE PHARISEES: Their leaven: doubt, continual seeking for more signs (v 12). Mar 8:15 adds "and that of Herod": Herod also sought a sign (Luk 23:8). In Luk 12:1, "leaven" also = hypocrisy. They would not believe, even if they saw other signs.

And they were so scrupulous in all the non-essentials, so much so that this in itself became a kind of "leaven" or "corruption" in their spiritual service: resulting in pride, self-righteousness, and judgmentalism.

Mat 16:7

IT IS BECAUSE WE DIDN'T BRING ANY BREAD: 'He thinks we are just like the crowds, and all we are looking for is another miracle.' Maybe they were right!

See VL, Disciples, slow comprehension. "Do you really think literal bread is a problem?"

Mat 16:8

'Open your eyes, open your ears, and stop thinking about things of the flesh.' Sometimes we do not recognize the power of God right away; this was the disciples' problem.

YOU OF LITTLE FAITH: Ct with the Gentile woman: "Woman, you have great faith!" (Mat 15:28).

Mat 16:9

V 9: feeding the Jews (Mat 14:17,21); v 10: feeding the Gentiles (Mat 15:34).

BASKETFULS: "Kophinos" = small basket, in ct "spuris" (large basket) of Mat 15:37; Mar 8:8.

Mat 16:11

I WAS NOT TALKING TO YOU ABOUT BREAD: Natural bread is of secondary importance. "But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well" (Mat 6:33).

Mat 16:12

THE YEAST... OF THE PHARISEES AND SADDUCEES: The "leaven" of hypocrisy: Luk 12:1.

Mat 16:13

CAESAREA PHILIPPI: The furthest possible point from the temple ritual.

SON OF MAN: Cp Gal 4:4. Same nature: Rom 8:3; Heb 2:14,17.

Mat 16:14

Follow the religious notions of the crowd, and you are almost certain to be wrong. (Notice that popular sentiment did not proclaim Jesus as Messiah any more; very evidently, this man did not WANT to be king!)

Mat 16:15

Six questions in Matthew: (1) "Who do you say I am?" (Mat 16:15); (2) "You of little faith, why are you so afraid?" (Mat 8:26); (3) "You of little faith... why did you doubt?" (Mat 14:31); "What do you want me to do for you?" (Mat 20:32); "Do you believe that I am able to do this?" (Mat 9:28); "How many loaves do you have?" (Mat 15:34).

Mat 16:16

God revealed this to Peter: v 17. Jesus, "My beloved Son": Mat 3:17; Mark 9:7; Luke 3:22; Mat 17:5.

THE LIVING GOD: That is, the God of the living creatures: 1Sa 17:26; 2Ki 19:4,16; Ps 42:2; 84:2; Hos 1:10; 2Co 3:3; 6:16; Heb 3:12; 9:14; Rev 7:2.

Mat 16:17

SON OF JONAH: An implied contrast between Jonah (Simon's earthly father) and God, Christ's heavenly father. Also, sig "son of the dove", with poss ref to Mat 3:16!


"Note here that Peter was asked for his opinion, and he gave it as his opinion. Yet Jesus calls it a revelation from God -- inspired, without anyone knowing it as such except Jesus! The explanation that this revelation was through the instruction already given by Jesus is clearly an expedient. Why should he say 'My Father' when referring to what he himself had done? The other eleven disciples and multitudes of others similarly instructed, could have made the same confession, but didn't. The obvious simple conclusion is that here God was at work on the mind of Peter, unperceived by all except Jesus" (HAW).

Mat 16:18

PETER: "Petros" = a loose, rolling stone: v 23; Luk 22:31.

ON THIS ROCK: By contrast, "petra" = the great, immovable rock! That rock is not Peter, but Peter's confession: 1Co 3:11; Eph 2:20; Mat 7:24,25; 1Pe 2:6,8. Peter was certainly not the supreme authority of the early church: see Act 11:1-3; 8:14; Gal 2:11.

Peter's fallibility: there is no evidence of any authority passed on by him to successors, either.

Christ is the ROCK, not Peter! See Mat 21:42; Acts 4:11; 1Co 10:4; Eph 2:20; 1Pe 2:6-8. There can be no other foundation but Christ: 1Co 3:11.

Likewise, God Himself is the "Rock" of Israel: Isa 44:8; Deu 32:4.

Mat 16:19

The power of the "keys" was committed to all the apostles, not just to Peter: Mat 18:18; Joh 20:23; Rev 21:14. (Christ speaks of all equally: Mat 18:1; Luk 22:25-30; Mar 9:34.)

"Power to bind" = power to preach gospel by which men and women may be bound to Christ. "Loose", then, = not preaching!

Or, perhaps, power to judge (as Ananias and Sapphira: Acts 5:1-10; 13:9-12) or to heal (as Aeneas: Acts 9:32-35; or Acts 5:12-16).

Mat 16:21

FROM THAT TIME ON: Now, a new emphasis: dealing with the ecclesia.

Cp Elijah, rejected by Ahab and Jezebel, but "raised" from despondency (1Ki 19:2-8).

Disciples' ignorance of Christ's impending death, and their desire for the kingdom to come immediately: Mat 17:4; 19:27; 20:20-23.

Mat 16:22

PETER... BEGAN TO REBUKE HIM: The echo of Eden: "You will not surely die" (Gen 3:4)! Peter was acting the serpent's part.

Mat 16:23

Jesus turned to: to the following multitude (Luk 14:25), the backsliding disciple (Luk 22:61), the impulsive disciple (Mat 16:23; Mar 8:33), and the trembling believer (Mar 5:30).

GET BEHIND ME: How quick a transition Peter made from Mat 16:18 / Mar 8:29 to Mat 16:23 / Mar 8:33! Peter was standing in front of Jesus, as though to stop him from going further. What Peter did not see was that, with all his good intentions, he was nevertheless attempting to destroy the mission of his Savior. Christ says, 'Don't hinder me; help me. Get behind me -- follow me... to Jerusalem!' And he does: "To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps" (1Pe 2:21).

SATAN: Refers to Peter, not the personal fallen-angel devil of popular belief. Meaning one who opposes (2Co 12:7).

STUMBLING BLOCK: A loose rock, the only function of which is to cause someone to stumble! Contrast with v 18!

Mat 16:24

Vv 24-26: An overview of the four "parts" of the "transaction" of redemption (see Lesson, Redemption) demonstrates that... Christ gave himself for himself: he was at the same time three of the four "parties": he was the buyer, the price paid, and that which was purchased! In this he was the first and preeminent example of his own words here. He redeemed, or bought, himself from the power of sin and the world because he gave himself up, utterly and wholeheartedly, to do the will of his Father. He lost his life to save his life, and -- not incidentally -- to save the lives of all who in faith follow his example.

AND TAKE UP HIS CROSS: Each individual disciple's particular burden. (But Christ helps each of us to carry it: Mat 11:28-30.)

AND FOLLOW ME: "Of the three things enjoined, the last is a vital thing: to follow. The other two are utterly essential because through the essential you achieve that which is vital. The reason is this. You can approve, and not follow. You can applaud and not follow. You can understand and preach, without following. You can defend the Truth pugnaciously, without following. You can tire yourself out on busy works -- without following... The central thing is the denial of self. It is utterly radical. Denial of self is the inward thing. Taking up the cross daily is the external manifestation of the inward condition. To talk of it is not to realize it. To write about it is not to achieve it. The use of the word 'daily' emphasizes that it is not just a theory but something that is real and practical; facing squarely every new circumstance; confronting bravely every impediment; grasping joyfully every new opportunity. In practice it means giving unhindered access to the Master into every chamber and esp into every dark corner. To think of that possibility might make us feel ashamed but at the same time it may do us good" (GD).

"The sentiment that Christ's righteousness alone is to be the basis of our acceptance, is one of the countless and pernicious corruptions of clerical theology. It doubtless originated in the misapplication of a certain element of apostolic truth, namely that which informs us that all are under sin, and that our salvation is not of works; but through the righteousness of faith that is in Christ. Men have long ceased to perceive that this principle applies only to unjustified sinners, and not to those who have been placed in a justified or forgiven position, through the obedience of faith. Christ is righteousness for sinners in this sense, that God offers to forgive them for Christ's sake, and to grant them a coheirship with Christ, of what Christ, as a manifestation of God, has achieved for himself. But when sinners become saints, they come into relation to a new principle. They are responsible to him as servants to a master, and he will judge them according to their works" (SC 164).

"The cross is the symbol of death. It stands for the abrupt, violent end of the human being. The man in Roman times who took up his cross and started down the road had already said goodbye to his friends. He was not coming back. He was not going out to have his life redirected. He was going out to have it ended. The cross made no compromise, modified nothing, spared nothing. It slew all of the man completely and for good. It did not try to keep on good terms with its victim. it struck swift and hard and when it had finished its work the man was no more. That evangelism which draws friendly parallels between the ways of God and the ways of man is false to the Bible and cruel to the soul of the hearers. The faith of Christ does not parallel the world. It intersects it. In coming to Christ we do not bring our life up on to a higher plane. We leave it at a cross. The grain of wheat must fall into the ground and die. That is the beginning of the gospel" (AWT).

"To give my life for Christ appears glorious. To pour myself out for others... to pay the ultimate price of martyrdom -- 'I'll do it. I'm ready, Lord, to go out in a blaze of glory.'

"We think giving our all to the Lord is like taking a $1,000 bill and laying it on the table -- 'Here's my life, Lord. I'm giving it all.' But the reality for most of us is that he sends us to the bank and has us cash in the $1,000 for quarters. We go through life putting out 25 cents here and 50 cents there. Listen to the neighbor kid's troubles instead of saying, 'Get lost.' Go to a committee meeting. Give a cup of water to a shaky old man in a nursing home.

"Usually giving our life to Christ isn't glorious. It's done in all those little acts of love, 25 cents at a time. It would be easy to go out in a flash of glory; it's harder to live the Christian life little by little over the long haul" (F Craddock).

I think it wouldn't be going too far to say that there IS a discernible reason for every commandment which we are given... and that that reason leads, without too much delay or detour, right back to the Atonement.

Christ's sacrifice is not just about blood, and sweat, and tears... and it is not just about the cross on that dreadful, but wonderful, day.

It is -- and we all know this! -- about the life he lived every day, every hour, before he arrived, finally, at that cross. Because it was his own unique life, built up day by day, with the building blocks of a thousand moments of ten thousand days, that made his cross meaningful.

Thousands of Jewish men died on thousands of Roman crosses across the length and breadth of Israel. But only one man died a sacrificial, atoning death on a cross. Because he was the perfect sacrifice, without spot or blemish.

So Christ's sacrifice is really about a life of many choices, each one in one way or another a choice to deny himself, and his own will, and to serve his Father, and his Father's will.

A lifetime of choices made the final choice -- of the cross itself -- a choice of cosmic significance... a choice which resonates to this day, and echoes in our lives.

The essence of sacrifice is denial of self. And if we choose Christ and his cross, then we are also choosing denial of self... as a way of life. It is the hardest choice we can make, but it is the most rewarding. Allowed to work in our lives, that commitment and that choice will change us.

"Then Jesus said to his disciples, 'If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it. What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his life? Or what can a man give in exchange for his life?' " (Mat 16:24-26).

We could run down a list of Christ's commandments, and the commandments passed along by the apostles as well, and ask: 'How does this relate to the Atonement?' And in every case, I venture to suggest, we shall find the answer -- and the meaningful example for us, of HOW to keep the commandment, and WHY we should keep it -- in the "living sacrifice" of Christ.

Do we wonder why we are commanded this, for example?: "Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you" (Mat 5:39-42). Well, of course, reason enough to do this -- or (let's be honest) to try very, very hard -- is that Christ has commanded it. But was it just an otherwise pointless requirement plucked out of the air: 'Let's test them with this one, while we are at it'? Of course not. We are told not to resist evil because Christ did not resist evil. And Christ did not resist evil because he had committed himself, wholeheartedly, to his Father who would ultimately judge rightly (1Pe 2:23). If we believe that that final judgment of our Father is sure and certain and righteous, then what does it matter if evil ones misuse us today, or tomorrow, or all the rest of our lives? God will set it right. What does it matter if we lose our coat, or our time, or our creature comforts -- the loss of those things which we might hold dear will only reinforce to our minds the one thing that we MUST hold MOST dear -- which no thief or bully or evil circumstance can take away from us: "What, then, shall we say in response to this? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all -- how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?... Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?" (Rom 8:31,32,35).

And suppose the "cross" we are called to bear at this very moment is not the loss of property, or health, or loved ones... the terrible losses that Job, for example, bore? Suppose the "cross" we are called to bear at this very moment is... simply... the harsh word spoken to us, or the little slight we experience, or the brief delay because some driver cut us off in traffic, or the tiny barb that pricks our pride?

Maybe the "cross" that we are called to bear, right now, is not the great mountain of difficulty that looms in front of us... but the little grain of sand in our shoe!

How do we respond? Do we give harsh word for harsh word, little grumble for silly slight, little whispered curse for minor inconvenience? Do we recoil at the least threat to our pride, or the least questioning of our intelligence, or our strength, or our goodness, or our wisdom?

Or... do we recall that "even Christ did not please himself" (Rom 15:3)? And do we therefore "turn the other cheek" to the little slap, the little needle, the little attack -- even if, and especially if, it comes from a brother or sister?

If we do, and when we do, then we are "living the atonement" in our lives.

Through fits and starts, and stops and blind alleys, sometimes failing but sometimes succeeding, we are learning to be, even in the small things of our lives, "living sacrifices" (Rom 12:1,2).

But the trouble with "living sacrifices" is that -- as one writer put it -- "they keep crawling down off the altar".

Lord, help me to hold on to your altar, and "die a little bit" every day, so that I might show forth your death until you return.

Mat 16:25

"Life" in v 25 and "soul" in v 26 are sw: Gr "psyche" = the natural life. All our possessions, wealth and earthly treasures, would be valueless if it meant the giving up of our future life.

Mat 16:27

AND THEN: That is, after his sufferings of the cross (v 21).

Mat 16:28

BEFORE: See Lesson, AN, Conditional deferment.

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