Hello! I’m glad you are reading about Jesus each day and pray you’re encouraged and inspired. Today Jesus has more conflict with the Pharisees who demand that he give them a sign. On a more positive note, Peter confesses that Jesus is the Christ through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. Jesus says that “He will build His church and the gates of hell will not prevail against it.” Jesus also foretells his death and resurrection.
RELIGIOUS LEADERS ASK FOR A SIGN IN THE SKY / 16:1-4
Following the visit to Gentile territories where the Gentiles saw Jesus’ miracles and reacted by praising the God of Israel (15:31), Jesus returned to Jewish territory, only to face a test from the unbelieving religious leaders. As recorded in 12:38-39, they had previously asked for a sign; here they resumed their challenge to Jesus’ authority. Matthew pictured the striking contrast of responses to Jesus.
16:1 The Pharisees and Sadducees came, and to test Jesus they asked him to show them a sign from heaven.NRSV Jesus had been able to escape the probing Pharisees for a while as he visited in Gentile areas (15:21-39). His last dealing with them had involved the issues of the law and ceremonial defilement, and Jesus had called the Pharisees hypocrites (15:7). But the Pharisees weren’t going to give up in their relentless attempts to discredit Jesus before the crowds. So, upon Jesus’ return to Jewish territory, the Pharisees and Sadducees came . . . to test Jesus. Testing was valid in the Old Testament to uncover a false prophet, but these leaders were not seeking the truth. The same Greek word for “test” is used in Hebrews 3:9 and signifies a test with the intent to discredit. Matthew may have had this in mind—that these men were tools of Satan and would be judged for testing the Son of God. Here the word conveys testing to show that Jesus would fail.
The Pharisees and Sadducees were Jewish religious leaders of two different parties, and their views were diametrically opposed on many issues. The Pharisees carefully followed their religious rules and traditions, believing that this was the way to God. They also believed in the authority of all the books of Scripture that we now call the Old Testament and in the resurrection of the dead. The Sadducees accepted only the books of Moses as Scripture and did not believe in life after death. In Jesus, however, these two groups had a common enemy. From their standpoint, this test would show that Jesus was a false prophet. They demanded that Jesus show them a sign from heaven. What exactly did they want? They had already seen and heard about many miracles, but evidently, that was not enough for them. They may have wanted something so spectacular that there could be no doubt that Jesus had come from God. More likely, they did not really want to see a sign; they simply hoped to discredit Jesus when he refused to give them one.
A sign was often used by God and his prophets to accomplish two purposes: (1) It showed trustworthiness or reliability—if a prophet said something would happen and it came to pass, this would demonstrate that in all his prophecies he was telling the truth from God. (2) A sign showed power—if a message were accompanied by a sign, this would authenticate the power and authority of the prophet. Jesus would not give them the sign they demanded. He had in mind an even greater evidence of his power.
16:2-3 He replied, “When evening comes, you say, ‘It will be fair weather, for the sky is red,’ and in the morning, ‘Today it will be stormy, for the sky is red and overcast.’ You know how to interpret the appearance of the sky, but you cannot interpret the signs of the times.”NIV The Pharisees and Sadducees demanded a sign from heaven. This means a sign from above, a miracle with such significance as to be incontrovertible evidence that Jesus was a true prophet. They had tried to explain away Jesus’ other miracles as sleight of hand, coincidence, or use of evil power, but they believed that only God could do a sign in the sky. This, they were sure, would be a feat beyond Jesus’ power. Although Jesus could have easily impressed them, he refused. He knew that even a miracle in the sky would not convince them that he was the Messiah because they had already decided not to believe in him. So, instead, he spoke to them in a parable.
The earliest and most reliable manuscripts do not include the saying about the weather. Some have thought this was a scribal assimilation to Luke 12:54-56. It is best to consider this quote as possibly coming from Jesus’ teaching but not necessarily originally written by Matthew in this context.
Jesus’ meaning was that while people (and particularly these religious leaders to whom Jesus was speaking) could discern the signs of the weather by watching the sky and predicting fair weather or storms, they could not interpret the signs of the times. That is, they could not interpret the coming of God’s kingdom with the appearance of God’s Messiah. They asked for a sign from heaven; they had the ultimate sign standing in front of them!
16:4 “A wicked and adulterous generation seeks after a sign, and no sign shall be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah.” And He left them and departed.NKJV This verse repeats the words that Jesus had given to a group of Pharisees and teachers of the law who had previously come to Jesus asking for a miraculous sign (see 12:38-42). Jesus refused to give them the sign they requested. Instead, he gave an answer, explaining that a sign would come in his timing, and that this sign would be unmistakable. As in 12:39, the words wicked and adulterous are synonyms for evil. “Adulterous” applies to the apostasy of Israel. Marriage and adultery are used in the Old Testament to symbolize God’s love and the nation’s unfaithfulness.
No sign would be given to this generation except the sign of the prophet Jonah. By using the sign of the prophet Jonah, who had been inside a great fish for three days, Jesus was predicting his death and resurrection. Jesus’ resurrection, of course, would be the most spectacular sign of all. That sign would come, not in Jesus’ timing or in answer to the Pharisees’ demands, but in God’s plan. When it occurred, even that sign would be dismissed by the religious leaders. (For possible meanings of this “sign,” see the explanation on 12:39-40.)
Jesus’ purpose was not to convince people to come to him by performing wonders; he came inviting people to come to him in faith. Then, as a response to their faith, he performed great miracles. If faith was required, these self-righteous religious leaders had little hope. After this encounter, Jesus left abruptly, got into the boat, and departed back toward the northeastern shore of the Sea of Galilee. This event marked the end of his public ministry in the region of Galilee.
|LIFE APPLICATION – SEEING MIRACLES|
|Many people, like these Jewish leaders, say they want to see a miracle so that they can believe. But Jesus knew that miracles rarely convince the skeptical. Jesus had been healing, raising people from the dead, and feeding thousands, and still people wanted him to prove himself by showing them a sign. Do you doubt Christ because you haven’t “seen” a miracle? Do you expect God to prove himself to you personally before you believe? Jesus said, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” (John 20:29 niv). We have all the miracles recorded in the Old and New Testaments, two thousand years of church history, and the witness of thousands. With all this evidence, those who won’t believe are either too proud or too stubborn. If you simply step forward in faith and believe, then you will begin to see God perform miracles with your life!|
JESUS WARNS AGAINST WRONG TEACHING / 16:5-12
16:5 When they went across the lake, the disciples forgot to take bread.NIV Jesus had left his confrontation with the Pharisees abruptly, and the disciples had gone with him. Apparently, at some point out on the sea, they realized that they had forgotten to take bread. Perhaps the disciples were feeling guilty for not having planned ahead well enough to have ample supplies on the boat.
16:6 “Be careful,” Jesus said to them. “Be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees.”NIV The disciples were worrying about bread, so Jesus used the opportunity to teach of the danger of the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees. Yeast is a key ingredient in bread, for it causes the dough to rise. “Yeast” in this passage symbolizes evil. The Jews were required to celebrate an annual period beginning with the Passover during which no yeast was to be found in their homes; all bread eaten had to be made without yeast (“unleavened,” see Exodus 12:14-20). Jesus was teaching that just as only a small amount of yeast was needed to make a batch of bread rise, so the evil teachings and hypocrisy of the religious and political leaders could permeate and contaminate the entire society. Jesus used yeast as an example of how a small amount of evil could affect a large group of people. The wrong teachings of the Pharisees were leading the entire nation astray. Jesus warned his disciples to constantly be on guard against the contaminating evil of the religious leaders (see also 2 Corinthians 13:5; Galatians 5:9).
|LIFE APPLICATION – ON GUARD|
|Jesus told the disciples to be on guard. What does it take to be on guard, in terms of faith?|
|A strong and sure center. We must keep Jesus at the center of our Christian faith.|
|A developing sense of “what makes sense.” That comes through a lifelong process of learning the Bible, understanding the life of the church, and being open to the Holy Spirit.|
|A core of Christian friends. A single sentry does not protect a castle. Find friends who will keep you growing. Join a church where Jesus is the center, the Bible is seriously studied, and people are “on the move.”|
16:7-8 They discussed this among themselves and said, “It is because we didn’t bring any bread.” Aware of their discussion, Jesus asked, “You of little faith, why are you talking among yourselves about having no bread?”NIV After hearing Jesus’ warning against wrong teaching, the disciples quietly talked among themselves. They didn’t understand the warning. They interpreted Jesus so literally that they missed his point entirely.
Jesus was aware of their discussion about having no bread. These disciples paralleled the problem of the religious leaders, for they often failed to realize Jesus’ true identity. Why did they talk about bread, something merely temporal, when their spiritual souls were at stake? Jesus’ rebuke, you of little faith, refers both to their lack of faith in realizing that he could supply bread as needed (as he had already done miraculously two separate times) and to their lack of understanding regarding his teachings. In these verses, Jesus’ rebuke is a series of questions focusing on the disciples’ lack of understanding and lack of memory regarding all that they had seen and experienced with him. In Mark 8:17, Jesus was rebuking them for hardness of heart, but here Matthew focused on their inability to grasp his true power. These men, closest to Jesus, would carry a huge responsibility after he was gone. Jesus wanted to be sure that they were getting the message.
16:9-10 “Do you still not perceive? Do you not remember the five loaves for the five thousand, and how many baskets you gathered? Or the seven loaves for the four thousand, and how many baskets you gathered?”NRSV These are rhetorical questions, not quiz questions. Jesus’ question Do you still not perceive? emphasized that, at this point in his ministry, the disciples should have begun to understand and perceive who Jesus was. After all they had seen and heard, they should have understood. Jesus rebuked the disciples for their lack of perception. The two feeding miracles centered upon the message “God will provide.” The disciples did not realize this truth. These were his trainees—those to whom his mission would be entrusted once he was gone. Would they ever understand? Jesus, for all his incredible power, did not and would not force understanding and belief upon his disciples. They had to comprehend and come to him on their own, in faith. Jesus had shown compassion on people and had performed miracles to meet their needs. Thus, the disciples should have understood that Jesus would meet their needs as well—whether for bread or for spiritual insight regarding the religious leaders. Jesus wanted the disciples to think about what they had seen, especially in the two feeding miracles. If they considered what had happened, they would have to conclude that Jesus was their Messiah, the Son of God.
16:11-12 “How could you fail to perceive that I was not speaking about bread? Beware of the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees!” Then they understood that he had not told them to beware of the yeast of bread, but of the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees.NRSV The disciples should have realized that Jesus would not talk about bread! Instead, he wanted the disciples to beware of the teachings of the Pharisees and Sadducees. Jesus was severing the disciples from all links to their religious past and to the authority of the religious leaders and was attaching them exclusively to himself.
Yet this also may have posed a problem, for the teachings of the Pharisees and Sadducees were diametrically opposed at almost all points. So of what “yeast” were the disciples to “beware”? Probably their incorrect understanding of the Messiah’s credentials and of how to get into the kingdom. For the Pharisees, it was rigid law keeping; the Sadducees did not even believe in eternal life. Their wrong understanding caused them to miss the Messiah completely; and their teaching (spreading like yeast through dough) was contaminating the entire nation. The disciples would eventually find that some of the greatest enemies of the Christians were the Jews who refused to believe in Jesus Christ as the Messiah. The need to “beware” would continue long after Jesus’ death and resurrection. In addition, the temptation to try to attain the kingdom by rigid law keeping, in order to be good enough (like the Pharisees) or to stop believing in eternal life (like the Sadducees) in the face of persecution and doubts, would, like yeast, be a problem for Jesus’ disciples in all ages.
|LIFE APPLICATION – YEAST TODAY|
|Pharisees were the conservatives of their era, and Sadducees were the liberals. Rigidly sure of the proper way to go about religion, Pharisees suffocated true faith in their systems and legalism. Empirically sure of the silliness of most religion, Sadducees trimmed true faith to a skeleton, elevating skepticism to a virtue. Beware of both parties today.|
|Legalism will bind you. Slowly but surely, your faith will shift from serving and loving Jesus to serving and embracing rules. Your reward will be self-righteousness.|
|Empiricism will starve you. If everything you believe must be measured, you’ll have no place for faith, hope, or love. You will be spiritually gaunt, and with so little room for growth, you’ll probably give it up.|
|Walk with Jesus. Accept no religious substitutes.|
PETER SAYS JESUS IS THE MESSIAH / 16:13-20
16:13 Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?”NRSV A beautiful site on the northern shore of the Sea of Galilee,
|Caesarea Philippi was located about twenty-five miles north of Bethsaida, on the slopes of Mount Hermon. The city lay in the territory ruled by Philip (Herod Antipas’s brother, mentioned in Luke 3:1). The influence of Greek and Roman culture was everywhere. The city was primarily non-Jewish, known for its worship of Greek gods and its temples devoted to the ancient god Pan. When Philip became ruler, he rebuilt and renamed the city after Caesar Tiberius and himself. The “Philippi” distinguished the city from another Caesarea located on the Mediterranean seacoast.
Journey to Caesarea Philippi
Jesus left Magadan, crossed the lake, and landed in Bethsaida. There he healed a man who had been born blind. From there, he and his disciples went to Caesarea Philippi, where Peter confessed Jesus as the Messiah and Son of God.
As Jesus and the disciples walked toward Caesarea Philippi, Jesus asked his disciples what they had heard from the people regarding his identity: Who do people say that the Son of Man is?
16:14 So they said, “Some say John the Baptist, some Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”NKJV The disciples answered Jesus’ question with the common view that Jesus was one of the great prophets who had come back to life. This belief may have stemmed from Deuteronomy 18:18, where God said he would raise up a prophet from among the people. (For the story of John the Baptist, see 3:1-17; 4:12; 11:2-15; 14:1-12. For the story of Elijah, see 1 Kings 17-21 and 2 Kings 1-2. Jeremiah’s story is told throughout the book of Jeremiah.) Herod had thought that Jesus was John the Baptist come back to life (14:1-2), so apparently this rumor was widespread. The people considered him to be Elijah because Elijah had been a great prophet, and one like him was expected to come before the Messiah arrived (see Malachi 4:5). Jeremiah may have been considered because, according to Jewish legend, he was “immortal” (his death is not mentioned in Scripture); thus, like Elijah, he did not die but was taken to heaven. As were John the Baptist, Elijah, and Jeremiah, Jesus was obviously a spokesman for God. Everyone who heard him understood that his message carried supernatural authority. However, all of these responses were incorrect, revealing that Jesus’ true identity was still unrecognized by the people. They didn’t realize that Jesus was the Messiah, the Son of God.
|LIFE APPLICATION – EXPLAINING JESUS AWAY|
|Jesus asked his disciples what people were saying about him. Theories still abound concerning the identity of Jesus: good man, remarkable teacher, supreme martyr, etc. All of them miss the point.|
|Jesus is the Christ: the Answer, the Final Word, the Point. He is in a class by himself—only one Savior, only one Son of God.|
|Where Jesus is recognized as Lord and Savior, faith grows and the gospel prospers. Where Jesus is esteemed among many other great ones, the “religious buffet” is being served. Pick any entrée besides the living Lord, and you’ll discover that they are all equally tasteless. Avoid churches and teachers who haven’t learned that Jesus is the Christ.|
16:15-16 He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter answered and said, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”NKJV The people may have had various opinions and ideas about Jesus’ identity, but Jesus was concerned about what his chosen twelve believed about him. So he said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” The word “you” is plural; Jesus was asking the entire group.
Peter, often the one to speak up when the others might be silent, declared what he had come to understand, You are the Christ, the Son of the living God. “Christ” is from the Greek; and “Messiah” is based on Hebrew—both mean “the Anointed One.” Psalm 2:2 mentions “the Lord and his anointed” (nrsv), referring to the Messiah—the King whom God would provide to Israel, the King who would sit on David’s throne forever. In his declaration, Peter proclaimed Jesus to be the promised King and Deliverer, the one and only Christ. This is the core of the gospel message. Matthew interpreted the words in a Jewish framework by adding “the living God.”
The disciples needed still further understanding. Although it certainly had already crossed all of their minds that Jesus might be the Messiah (otherwise they probably would not have been following him—see John 1:41, 45, 49), they still needed to learn about their role as agents of the promised Messiah and their role in his kingdom. They did not yet fully understand the kind of king Jesus would be. Peter, and indeed all Israel, expected the Messiah to be a conqueror-liberator who would free the nation from Rome. Jesus would be a totally different kind of conqueror-liberator, and he would conquer sin and death and free people from sin’s grasp.
|LIFE APPLICATION – SPIRITUAL INSIGHT|
|Jesus told Peter that God had revealed the great spiritual truth to him. Often we wonder where certain people get their insight, their faith. If we knew where faith comes from, we could give credit for being faithful.|
|If it comes from inside us, we get the credit. Jesus did the work that enabled our salvation, but then we could get credit for believing in it.|
|If it comes from outside us, then God gets the credit. Jesus both did the work that enables our salvation and provides the means of our accepting it. As blind people need help to “see” the world, so spiritually dead people need help to find spiritual life. Jesus gives us that help.|
|When it comes to bragging about your faith, brag about God. He is the one who gives us faith.|
16:17 And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven.”NRSV All of the disciples may have had glimmers of understanding about who Jesus was, but Jesus perceived the depth of Peter’s confession of faith. Thus Jesus called him blessed. The Greek word makarios (here translated “blessed”) is the same word used at the beginning of each beatitude (5:3-10). It means especially favored by God’s gracious approval.
Jesus called Peter Simon son of Jonah. In John 1:42, at Jesus’ first meeting with him, Jesus had said, “‘You are Simon son of John. You will be called Cephas’ (which, when translated, is Peter)” (niv).
|Whether Jesus called him Simon or Peter throughout his ministry is unknown. (That he was called “son of John” in John’s Gospel and “son of Jonah” here probably was simply a difference in the transliteration from the Aramaic.) At this point, Peter’s new name carried a new meaning.||The very man who knows the Word of God also knows that he can bring no capability of his own to this knowledge, but has first to receive all capability.
Peter is pictured as the focus of divine revelation. “Flesh and blood” is a Jewish idiom for people in general. No person showed Peter the truth he had just spoken (16:16); instead, Jesus’ (my) Father in heaven had revealed it to him. Then, as now, true understanding of who Jesus is and the ability to confess that fact come not from our human nature or will, but from God alone. Jesus emphasized that the Father had revealed this truth to Peter, whereas Satan prompted Peter (16:23) to talk Jesus out of his upcoming death. In 16:18, Peter is called a “rock,” but in 16:23, he is a “stumbling block.” These contrasting images show Peter’s vacillating nature.
16:18 “And I also say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church.”NKJV The name Peter had already been given to Simon when Jesus first met him (John 1:42). Here Jesus gave the name new meaning. Jesus said, “You are Peter [petros], and on this rock [petra] I will build my church.” While the wordplay is evident, what did this rock refer to? The “rock” on which Jesus would build his church has been identified in four main ways:
- The “rock” refers to Jesus himself (his work of salvation by dying for us on the cross). This would mean that Jesus is the divine architect of our faith and that he himself is the chief cornerstone. But this truth does not seem to be what the language conveys here. The focus was on Peter and on Jesus’ response to him.
- The “rock” refers to Peter as the supreme leader or first “bishop” of the church. This view is promoted by Roman Catholic scholars. It gives authority to the hierarchy of their church and regards Peter and each of his successors as the supreme pontiff of the church. There is no mention of succession in these verses, however, and while the early church expressed high regard for Peter, there is no evidence that they regarded him as final authority. Also, this creates a great problem because such a view excludes the churches who do not trace their origin to Peter.
- The “rock” refers to the confession of faith that Peter gave and that all subsequent true believers give. This view was promoted by Luther and the reformers as a reaction to view number two. To regard Peter’s confession and discount his leadership makes the situation unnecessarily abstract. Peter was looked to as a leader in the church. In the phrase, “You are Peter,” you is emphatic, emphasizing Peter’s role.
- The “rock” refers to Peter as the leader and spokesman (foundation stone) of the disciples. Just as Peter had revealed the true identity of Christ, so Jesus revealed Peter’s identity and role. While apostolic succession cannot be found in this context or in any of the epistles, Peter’s role as a leader and spokesman of the church must not be discounted. This view has an element from number two in that Peter is the forerunner because he is the one who received the revelation of insight and faith concerning Christ’s identity, and Peter is the first one who confessed Christ.
|The word “church” (ekklesia) is found in the Gospels only in Matthew, but the concept is found throughout all four Gospels. Jesus’ words reveal that there would be a definite interim period between his death and second coming—the “church age.” “Church” means “the called-out people of God.”||Without a recovery of the spiritual convictions and vitality which marked the church as she came into existence, Christianity is unlikely to remain a serious contender among world religions.
Carl F. H. Henry
Peter’s individual authority became clear in the book of Acts as he became the spokesman for the disciples and for the Christian community. Peter, as the spokesman, became the foundation stone of all believers who would “build” Christ’s church.
Later, Peter reminded Christians that they were the church built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Jesus Christ as the cornerstone (1 Peter 2:4-8; see also 1 Corinthians 3:11). All believers are joined into this church by faith in Jesus Christ as Savior, the same faith that Peter expressed here (see also Ephesians 2:20-21; Revelation 21:14). True believers like Peter regard their faith as a revelation from God and are willing to confess him publicly. Jesus praised Peter for his confession of faith. Faith like Peter’s is the foundation of Christ’s kingdom.
“And the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it.”NKJV The “gates of Hades” represents Satan and all his minions. These words may be interpreted, in light of other passages on the power of Satan, as Satan’s domain in the offensive against the church. Christ promises that Satan will not defeat the church; instead, his sphere of operation (death) will be defeated. In these words Jesus gave the promise of the indestructibility of the church and protection for all who believe in him and become part of his church.
16:19 “And I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven.”NKJV The meaning of this verse has been a subject of debate for centuries. The future tense, will give, probably points to the time after Jesus’ resurrection and after Peter is reinstated to fellowship with Jesus (John 21). The “binding and loosing” aspect of authority applied to all the disciples (18:18), not just to Peter. However, Jesus gave Peter undeniable authority over the group of disciples, seen in the leadership he assumed over the Jerusalem believers (Acts 1:15-26) and over the church after Pentecost.
Some say the “keys of the kingdom” represents the authority to carry out church discipline, legislation, and administration (18:15-18); others say the keys give the authority to announce the forgiveness of sins (John 20:23). Most likely, the “keys” are the kingdom authority given to the church, including the opportunity to bring people to the kingdom of heaven by presenting them with the message of salvation found in God’s Word (Acts 15:7-9). They are also the keys to binding and loosing (18:18-20). Peter had been told about the foundation of a building that Christ would build and then was given the keys to that building. The “keys” suggest not that he was a “doorman,” controlling who would enter the building; rather, they portray a “steward,” who would administer the building.
“And whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.”NKJV Earth and heaven refer not to spatial relationships, but to the divine, heavenly authority behind the disciples’ earthly actions. “Binding” and “loosing” were a rabbinic concept that could have two meanings: to establish rules or to discipline. The disciples would be involved in a certain amount of rule making in building God’s community (such as determining what kind of conduct would be worthy of its members), and they would have authority to discipline other members of the community. Thus, the words also refer to the disciples’ inspiration as proclaimers of God’s new revelation.
The religious leaders thought they held the keys of the kingdom, and they tried to shut some people out. We cannot decide to open or close the kingdom of heaven for others, but God uses us to help others find the way inside. To all who believe in Christ and obey his words, the kingdom doors are swung wide open.
16:20 Then he sternly ordered the disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Messiah.NRSV Jesus sternly ordered his disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Messiah because at this point they didn’t fully understand the significance of Peter’s confession—nor would anyone else. Everyone still expected the Messiah to come as a conquering king. But even though Jesus was the Messiah, he still had to suffer, be rejected by the leaders, be killed, and rise from the dead. When the disciples saw all this happen to Jesus, they would understand what the Messiah had come to do. They would have a difficult time understanding Jesus’ work until his earthly mission was complete. Only then would they be equipped to share the gospel around the world.
JESUS PREDICTS HIS DEATH THE FIRST TIME /16:21-28
From this point on, Jesus spoke plainly and directly to his disciples about his death and resurrection. He began to prepare them for what was going to happen to him by telling them three times that he would soon suffer and die and then be raised back to life (16:21-28; 17:22-23; 20:17-19).
16:21 From that time on Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.NIV The phrase “from that time on” marks a turning point.
|In 4:17 it signaled Jesus’ announcement of the kingdom of heaven. Here it points to his new emphasis on his death and resurrection. The disciples still didn’t grasp Jesus’ true purpose because of their preconceived notions about what the Messiah should be. While they may have understood that he was the Messiah, they needed to prepare to follow him and to be loyal to him as he suffered and||This cross saved and converted the world, drove away error, brought back truth, made earth Heaven, fashioned men into angels. Because of this cross, the devils are no longer terrible, but contemptible; neither is death, death, but a sleep.
died. So Jesus began teaching clearly and specifically what they could expect so that they would not be surprised when it happened. Contrary to what they thought, Jesus had not come to set up an earthly kingdom. He would not be the conquering Messiah because he first had to suffer many things . . . and . . . be killed. For any human king, death would be the end. Not so for Jesus. Death would be only the beginning, for on the third day, he would be raised to life.
Jesus’ teaching that he must suffer corresponds to Daniel’s prophecies that God’s plan for redemption could not be thwarted by any actions people might take: The Messiah would be cut off (Daniel 9:26); there would be a period of trouble (Daniel 9:27); and the king would come in glory (Daniel 7:13-14). The suffering also recalls Isaiah’s prophecy of the suffering Servant in Isaiah 53. His rejection looks back to the rejected “stone” in Psalm 118:22.
Jesus knew from what quarters the rejection would come: the elders, chief priests, and teachers of the law (also called “scribes”). The “elders” were the leaders of the Jews who decided issues of religious and civil law. Each community had elders, and a group of them was included in the Council (or Sanhedrin) that met in Jerusalem. “Chief priests” refers not only to the present high priest, but also to all those who formerly held the title and some of their family members. Teachers of the law did just that—taught the law. They were the legal experts. These three groups made up the Sanhedrin, the Jewish supreme court that ultimately sentenced Jesus to be killed (27:1). Notice that opposition came not from the people at large, but from their leaders—the very people who should have been the first to recognize and rejoice in the Messiah’s arrival.
|LIFE APPLICATION – TRIUMPHALISM|
|“Triumphalism” is a word that describes the kind of Christianity that seeks political prestige, social recognition, and temporal power. It forces itself on populations and begins to dictate on matters far removed from Jesus’ word. It says, “God will not let us lose because God cannot tolerate loss.” It presses toward victory by any means. It likes success. It is modern Christianity mimicking Peter’s advice to Jesus when he tried to talk him out of his mission.|
|But Jesus describes the path of faith in much humbler terms: injustice, misunderstanding, suffering, and death. These terms typify true faith for Jesus more than black-tie banquets celebrating multimillion-dollar fund-raising campaigns. When you think of what faith means, focus on Jesus, not on brochures, media presentations, or hyped-up public relations press releases.|
16:22 Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. “Never, Lord!” he said. “This shall never happen to you!”NIV This was too much for Peter. Having just confessed his heartfelt belief in Jesus as “the Christ, the son of the living God” (16:16) and having been given great authority in Jesus’ kingdom (16:18-19), Peter certainly found it most unnerving that the King would soon be put to death. His actions show that he really didn’t know what he was saying. If Jesus were going to die, what did this mean for the disciples? If he were truly the Messiah, then what was all this talk about being killed? So Peter took Jesus aside and began to rebuke him. The word for “rebuke” is a strong term meaning that Peter was rejecting Jesus’ interpretation of the Messiah as a suffering figure.
Peter, Jesus’ friend and devoted follower who had just eloquently proclaimed Jesus’ true identity, sought to protect him from the suffering he prophesied. But if Jesus hadn’t suffered and died, Peter would have died in his sins. Great temptations can come from those who love us and seek to protect us. Be cautious of advice from a friend who says, “Surely God doesn’t want you to face this.” Often our most difficult temptations come from those who try to protect us from discomfort.
16:23 But he turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; for you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”NRSV Peter often spoke for all the disciples. In singling Peter out for rebuke, Jesus may have been addressing all of them indirectly. In his wilderness temptations, Jesus had been told that he could achieve greatness without dying (4:8-9). Peter, in his rebuke of Jesus’ words about dying, was saying the same thing. Trying to circumvent God’s plan had been one of Satan’s tools; Peter inadvertently used Satan’s tool in trying to protect his beloved Master. Although Peter had just proclaimed Jesus as Messiah, quickly he turned from God’s perspective and evaluated the situation from a human one. This would be a stumbling block to Jesus. Peter was speaking Satan’s words, thus Jesus rebuked Peter with the words, Get behind me, Satan! This didn’t make sense to Peter, who, Jesus said, was setting his mind not on divine things but on human things. This accusation provides us with an important principle for following Jesus today. We know, from God’s Word, Jesus’ true identity as God’s Son, but it is so easy for us to limit his impact on our life when we are preoccupied with earthly goals. It is so natural and comfortable for us to set our minds on human comfort, security, success, and prosperity that we forget our divine call to sacrifice and service. So we can see that Peter’s perspective was wrong. God’s plan included suffering and death for the Messiah. Jesus would fulfill his mission exactly as planned.
16:24 Then Jesus said to His disciples, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me.”NKJV These words applied to the disciples and to all who would come after Jesus—that is, become a disciple and enter his fellowship. Recognizing and confessing belief in Jesus as the Messiah is only the beginning of discipleship. Jesus invites every person to follow, but those who desire to follow him must have three attitudes: (1) a willingness to deny themselves, (2) a willingness to take up the cross, and (3) a willingness to follow.
To deny oneself means to surrender immediate material gratification in order to discover and secure one’s true self and God’s interests. It is a willingness to let go of selfish desires and earthly security. This attitude turns self-centeredness to God-centeredness. “Self” is no longer in charge; God is. Too often this has been interpreted to mean that we should have no self-esteem. Some discipleship or “deeper life” strategies have advocated stripping ourselves of all dignity or anything that contributes to a sense of self-worth. Jesus’ view of denial was immediate and practical. It had to do with the disciples’ careers—their future.
To take up the cross was a vivid illustration of the humility and submission that Jesus was asking of his followers. When Jesus used this example of his followers taking up their crosses to follow him, the disciples got the picture. Death on a cross was a form of execution used by Rome for what they considered dangerous criminals. A prisoner carried his own cross to the place of execution, signifying submission to Rome’s power. Following Jesus, therefore, meant identifying with Jesus and his followers, facing social and political oppression and ostracism, and no turning back. For some, taking up the cross might indeed mean death. But Jesus’ words meant that his followers had to be prepared to obey God’s Word and to follow his will no matter what the consequences. We must count the cost and be prepared to pay it. Soon after this, Jesus would take up his own cross. Jesus was speaking prophetically here as well. To follow Christ is also a moment-by-moment decision, requiring compassion and service. Following Jesus doesn’t mean walking behind him, but taking the same road of sacrifice and service that he took.
|LIFE APPLICATION – LOYALTY|
|Jesus asked for something unique and rare when he suggested that his disciples be loyal to him.|
|What receives our loyalty today? Sports teams . . . as long as they’re winning. Career . . . as long as we’re advancing. Marriage . . . as long as one’s spouse remains attractive. Basically, the self alone seems to deserve the loyalty of the self. It’s each person looking out for number one.|
|In Christian faith, however, Jesus must be number one, and we must give him our loyalty. Stick with him despite the swift current you’re swimming through. Never think that switching loyalties will reckon to your personal advantage. Remain loyal to Jesus and follow him all the way to heaven.|
16:25 “For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it.”NKJV The Christian life is a paradox: To attempt to save your life means only to lose it. The Greek word for “life” is psuche, referring to the soul, the part of the person that includes the personality with all its dreams, hopes, and goals. A person who “saves” his or her life in order to satisfy desires and goals apart from God ultimately “loses” life. Not only does that person not receive the eternal life offered only to those who believe and accept Christ as Savior, but he or she loses the fullness of life promised to those who believe.
By contrast, those who willingly “lose” their lives for the sake of Christ and the gospel (that is, God’s kingdom) actually “save” their lives. To lose one’s life for Christ refers to a person refusing to renounce Christ, even if the punishment were death. To lose one’s life for the gospel implies that the person would be on trial for preaching and circulating the Christian message.
To be willing to put personal desires and life itself into God’s hands means to understand that nothing that we can gain on our own in our earthly lives can compare to what we gain with Christ. Jesus wants us to choose to follow him rather than to lead a life of sin and self-satisfaction. He wants us to stop trying to control our own destiny and to let him direct us. This makes good sense because, as the Creator, Christ knows better than we do what real life is about. He asks for submission, not self-hatred; he asks us only to lose our self-centered determination to be in charge.
The possibility of losing their lives was very real for the disciples as well as for Jesus. Real discipleship implies real commitment—pledging our whole existence to his service. If we try to save our physical lives from death, pain, or discomfort, we may risk losing our true eternal lives. If we protect ourselves from pain, we begin to die spiritually and emotionally. Our lives turn inward, and we lose our intended purpose. When we give our lives in service to Christ, however, we discover the real purpose of living.
16:26 “For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?”NKJV To reinforce his words in 16:25, Jesus asked his listeners a rhetorical question. What good would it be for a person to gain the whole world (that is, to have power or financial control over the entire world system of which Satan is the head), but lose his or her soul (that is, to lose eternal life with God)? Every person will die, even those most powerful or most wealthy. If they have not taken care to “save” their lives for eternity with God, then they gain nothing and lose everything.
Jesus had faced this exact temptation in the wilderness: “The devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. ‘All this I will give you,’ he said, ‘if you will bow down and worship me.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Away from me, Satan! For it is written: “Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.”‘” (4:8-10 niv). Many people spend all their energy seeking pleasure. Jesus said, however, that a world of pleasure centered on possessions, position, or power is ultimately worthless. Whatever a person has on earth is only temporary; it cannot be exchanged for his or her soul. If you work hard at getting what you want, you might eventually have a “pleasurable” life, but in the end you will find it hollow and empty. The answer to the question, then, is that nothing is of enough value that it can be exchanged for one’s soul. Even if a person were to gain the world, that person would lose his or her soul—and the soul counts for eternity. No amount of money, power, or status can buy back a lost soul. Believers must be willing to make the pursuit of God more important than the selfish pursuit of pleasure. If we follow Jesus, we will know what it means to live abundantly now and to have eternal life as well.
|LIFE APPLICATION – ETERNITY’S VALUES|
|When we don’t know Christ, we make choices as though this life were all we have. In reality, this life is just the introduction to eternity. What we accumulate on earth has no value in purchasing eternal life. Yet how willing we are to sell our eternal values short for earthly security. How foolish to seek worldly comfort and wealth and ignore the issue of our soul’s eternal salvation. How important would a lifetime of pleasure seem when compared to an eternity separated from God and all the blessings of life with him? Even the highest social or civic honors cannot earn us entrance into heaven. Evaluate all that happens from an eternal perspective, and you will find your values and decisions changing.|
16:27 “For the Son of Man is to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay everyone for what has been done.”NRSV Jesus, here again using the self-designation of Son of Man, will come again, but at that time he will be in his exalted state as King and Judge. The future tense of the phrase “is to come with his angels in the glory of his Father” indicates Christ’s glorious second coming—the time of future judgment when present life ceases and everyone will be repaid for what has been done. The idea of repayment is taken from Psalm 62:12, “Steadfast love belongs to you, O Lord. For you repay to all according to their work” (nrsv). The judgment referred to here is positive, involving the Son of Man’s loving acceptance of true disciples. While Jesus called his followers to deny themselves, take up their crosses, and follow, he also promised great reward. Their self-denial and discipleship would not be wasted. Their repayment would come in the glorious future kingdom of God.
Jesus Christ has been given the authority to judge all the earth (Romans 14:9-11; Philippians 2:9-11). Although his judgment is already working in our lives, there is a future, final judgment when Christ returns (25:31-46) and everyone’s life is reviewed and evaluated. This will not be confined to unbelievers; Christians too will face a judgment. Their eternal destiny is secure, but Jesus will look at how they handled gifts, opportunities, and responsibilities in order to determine their heavenly rewards. At the time of judgment, God will deliver the righteous and condemn the wicked.
|LIFE APPLICATION – ENIGMATIC PROMISES|
|It may have been perfectly clear to the disciples, but the meaning of Jesus’ promises here is anything but clear to us. We may not see it as clearly as we’d like, but here’s what we do know:|
|When Jesus begins a statement with “Truly, I tell you . . .” listen hard and long. He emphasized what he said for a reason.|
|Jesus holds power over death. While most Christians will die, some will not.|
|Jesus’ kingdom has a future. The present is not the final chapter. The future will be bright with Jesus in charge.|
|Jesus is coming. That should fill us with anticipation, and we should place our hope in Jesus’ words.|
|If quizzical details make the promise enigmatic, this much we know for sure. It’s a pretty good start. Trust Jesus’ words even when you can’t quite figure out all the details.|
16:28 “Truly I tell you, there are some standing here who will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.”NRSV When Jesus said some would not taste death (die) before seeing the coming of the kingdom, he may have been referring to
- Peter, James, and John, who would witness the Transfiguration a few days later;
- those who would witness the Resurrection and Ascension;
- the Holy Spirit’s coming at Pentecost; and
- all who would take part in the spread of the church after Pentecost.
Some people reading this passage have assumed that Jesus was promising that the disciples would not die before he came back to set up his glorious kingdom. Perhaps the disciples themselves at first thought that Jesus was referring to his glorious rule on earth. But the disciples have died, so this passage must be interpreted differently.
Jesus’ transfiguration, which immediately follows (17:1-13), was a preview of that coming glory. At the Transfiguration, Peter, James, and John saw Jesus’ glory, identity, and power as the Son of God. In 2 Peter 1:16-18, Peter definitely says, “We told you about the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ . . . we were eyewitnesses of his majesty” (niv). Thus, certain disciples were eyewitnesses to the power and glory of Christ’s kingdom. Jesus’ point was that his listeners would not have to wait for another Messiah because the kingdom was among them, and it would soon come in power.
Source: Life Application Bible Commentary – Matthew.