Turning: Matthew 16

In Summary:

Matthew 16 begins a serious turn in the ministry of Jesus. He has been teaching about the Kingdom of God, but now His actions shift toward the final phase of earthly ministry. He has taught many things, but now His teaching will focus on why He is headed to the Cross. At least, as far as Matthew goes.

Matthew 16 finds Jesus back in the traditional land of Israel, near the Sea of Galilee (Magadan in 15:39 is likely another term for the region of Magdala, in Galilee.) The Pharisees and Sadducees are here to greet Jesus on His return from Tyre and Sidon. Though He has been healing the sick and proclaiming the truth of God, they are not here with a fruit basket and a welcome mat.

They are here with questions. Questions, after all, are a great way to trap someone. A well-formed question provides benefits to the questioner no matter how it is answered. Unless, of course, one is questioning the Lord God Almighty. Then it does not turn out so well. The Pharisees and Sadducees want a sign from Jesus. If He does one on command, then they are in control. If He refuses, they can claim He is unable.

Instead, Jesus hits them with a challenge: why are they asking Him for signs? Are they dense? Jesus is aware that they will not believe no matter what He says, so He doesn’t waste the time answering them. They get one sign: His resurrection.

Jesus then warns the disciples not to take in the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees, though the disciples miss the point initially. It is worth noting how Jesus illustrates false teaching: it is like a little yeast that affects a whole loaf of bread. It may not look like much, but it will spread out.

In Focus:

I cannot come through Matthew 16 without putting Matthew 16:13-20 under the microscope. This is the turning point of the Gospel of Matthew—prior to this, Matthew shows Jesus as a miracle-working teacher. After this, Matthew shows Jesus as the Messiah, bound for the Cross. (Yes, that’s a bit of a simplification but it bears up.)

What occurs in these verses? Jesus asks the disciples a question. A simple one: “Who do people say I am?” (16:13). The disciples give Him back a report on His public standing, that Jesus is recognized by the people as some form of prophet.

The Lord Jesus is not satisfied with this answer. He then turns the question to the disciples: “What about you?” Peter gives Him the truthful answer: You are the Christ, the Messiah, the Son of the living God. That answer is praised by Jesus and then He warns the disciples to keep this to themselves.

In Practice:

The first step, practically, is to answer the Matthew 16:15 question ourselves. The world says this and that about Jesus, but who do you say that He is? Who do I say that He is? He is the Messiah, the Savior, the Lord of All. We have the benefit of being on this side of the Tomb, so we won’t make Peter’s mistake of 16:22-23 and try to keep Jesus from the Cross, but we need to be aware of the danger. After all, it is easy to seek a Jesus that did not sacrifice, so that we would not be required to do so, either.

The second step is to examine the rest of the chapter and answer those questions from Jesus. What profit is it to gain the world and forfeit our souls? What do we have to offer for our souls? Nothing, we have nothing.

So we must, in response to the truth that Jesus is truly the Son of God, take up our cross and follow Him. That’s not a simple act. It is an act of accepting whatever public scorn is heaped on us for serving Jesus over all other gods. Whatever consequences come, be it good or bad, we take those on. Why?

Because Jesus is not just a nice guy or a great teacher, not a revolutionary or an awesome leader, He is the Christ, the Son of the Living God, to whom we owe all allegiance.

In Nerdiness: 

Nerds unite! First, there are three major interpretations Matthew 16:18. The first is that Peter himself is the foundation of the church. The second is that Peter’s confession is the foundation of the church. The third is that Jesus is the foundation of the church.

The first conclusion comes from seeing “Simon” renamed as “Peter” in this passage, and then Jesus’ reference to the “rock.” The word “rock” is, generally, feminine. “Petros,” which becomes “Peter” in English, is a masculine form of this word. So, the idea goes, Jesus is referring to Peter as the rock on which the church will be built. Churches that focus on “Apostolic Succession” tend to support this idea. Roman Catholicism is dependent on it—Peter was in charge (the keys of the kingdom verse is next) —so Peter’s successors are in charge.

The second conclusion takes Peter out and puts his confession as the rock of the church. I can see this possibility. It rests the idea that the true church is found in those who confess Jesus is the Christ.

The final conclusion, that Jesus is referring to Himself, connects well to the idea of Jesus as the Cornerstone (Ephesians 2:20) or the Lord as the rock of salvation (Psalm 18:2). It also puts the foundation of the church in God and not even the words of man.

Study wise, I can live with either the second or third.

Then we could spend hours on what it means to hold the “keys of the kingdom” and whether what we bind on earth “will be bound” or “will have already been bound….” That is, does earthly action like church discipline effect eternity, or does it simply reflect eternity?

But we’re out of space for today, so those will come later.

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