Bible: What Does Matthew 16 Teach Us About Peter's Confession of Faith and About the Church?
A Sign from Heaven
Matthew 16: Peter's Confession of Faith; Jesus' Ecclesia; Saving and Losing One's "Life"
The Jews Ask for a Sign
Again, Jewish religious leaders confront the Lord and ask Him for a sign from heaven (v. 1; cf. 12:39).
[At least two differences exist between this context and that of 12:39:
(1) Here, Sadducees join the Pharisees in the assault, whereas the earlier section reports that scribes accompany the latter group;
(2) Here, the leaders ask for a sign “from heaven”; earlier, they ask for a “sign” without specifying its point of origin.]
As is His wont, Jesus illustrates a truth by using an easy-to-understand, everyday observation.
Christ first acknowledges their ability to predict future events by observing natural phenomena.
(For instance, how the sky’s color at certain times of the day enables them to forecast the weather.)
Then He decries their obtuseness that prevents them from recognizing spiritual reality—that He has come to fulfill OT kingdom prophecies (vv. 2-3).
Accordingly, Jesus does not perform another miracle for their amusement (for He knows that they would not have accepted it), but merely reiterates His previous answer regarding His death and resurrection, typified by Jonah’s experience (v. 4).
Know the Scriptures
Beware of the Pharisees' Doctrine
Now the Lord joins His disciples, who are probably blaming one another for not remembering to bring some leftover bread with them from the latest miracle (v. 5), and He admonishes them on a metaphorical level (“Beware of the leaven . . . “) [v. 6].
However, they understand His exhortation on a purely literal one (“. . . we have taken no bread”) [v. 7].
Taking advantage of this teaching moment, Christ rebukes His men (v. 8), expressing amazement over their lack of spiritual perception (vv. 9-11).
[What did Jesus expect the miracles to teach them?]
After hearing His plain statement (“. . . I did not speak to you concerning bread . . . but to beware of the leaven . . .”), the disciples finally understand that the leaven represents Pharisaical teaching, not the everyday, physical product used in making bread (yeast) [v. 12].
[Perhaps they thought that He was warning them not to use the Pharisees’ leaven to bake their bread!
In reality, of course, He was telling them to be wary of the Jewish leaders’ teaching.]
Jesus: The Lord and Savior
The Apostle Peter
Faith in Jesus
Peter: The First Pope, or Just First Among Equals?
Do you believe the Roman Catholic view of Peter and his confession of faith?
Whom Do Men Say That I Am?
The region of Caesarea Philippi [in Herod’s Philip’s tetrarchy, about twenty-five miles north of the Sea of Galilee (Ryrie, New Testament Study Bible, 35)], the next stop in Jesus’ itinerant ministry, achieves fame as the site of Peter’s great confession of faith in response to the Lord’s “opinion poll” concerning His identity as “the Son of Man” (vv. 13-16).
For one reason or another, three or four other candidates garner votes: Herod thought Jesus was the resurrected John the Baptist (cf. 14:2); some perceived Him to be Elijah the miracle worker; others identified Christ as Jeremiah or one of the prophets because of His fervent preaching of repentance (v. 14).
After hearing these other responses, Christ asks the disciples point-blank for their view on this most crucial question (v. 15).
Presumably while the others search for the exact words, Peter blurts out what the Father had revealed to him (v. 17)—“You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (v. 16).
Jesus Acknowledges Peter's Confession of Faith
Hearing this answer, Jesus rejoices greatly and, while pronouncing “Simon son of Jonas” “blessed,” acknowledges that the apostle had received this revelation from heaven, not from human beings (v. 17).
[One may convince people of the deity of Christ by using rational evidence, but not until the Father (or the Holy Spirit) opens their mind and heart will Jesus call them “blessed.”
Besides believing the historical facts (post-Cross), one must also trust in the Person of Christ and His substitutionary atonement in order for salvation to occur.]
Not only does the Father implant this spiritual truth into Simon’s mind and heart, but the Son also awards him with a name of honor —a name that has replaced his given name in historical annals: Peter.
[Christ called Simon Peter (Cephas; stone) the first time He met him (cf. John 1:42); perhaps the Lord stressed its importance more at this stage.]
On This "Rock" I Will Build My Church
Verses 18-19 have furnished fertile ground for interpreters to muddle around in for the past two millennia.
Roman Catholics understand this passage as forming the basis for designating Peter as the first pope—an understanding with which Protestants (and Baptists) have vigorously contended.
Jesus does name Peter (petros; masculine noun) “rock,” but He also employs a pun here, saying that it is “on this rock” (petra; feminine noun) that He is going to build His church (ekklesia).
Clearly, if Jesus intended to proclaim Peter as the rock upon which He would build, He would have used petros again.
So, to what does the Lord refer when He says petra? Ryrie suggests the popular interpretation that Jesus meant Peter’s profession of faith in the revelation of Christ’s deity (36).
However, the Lord is building His Church on confessors, not confessions (Vincent qtd. in McClain, The Greatness of the Kingdom, 328).
Paul clarifies the issue somewhat more by asserting that the building (a figure of the ekklesia) has been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone” (cf. Eph. 2:20).
Therefore, while Peter may have been the first apostle to make the profession, he is by no means the only one to do so; other apostles and prophets trusted Christ and thus constituted the foundation along with Peter. McClain holds this interpretation as most plausible.
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Charles C. Ryrie
The future tense of the verb here indicates, of course, that Christ had not yet begun to build His ekklesia—literally, an assembly of those “called out” from the mass of humanity.
A thorough examination of relevant passages points to Pentecost as the day of the Church’s beginning (cf. Matt. 3:11; Acts 1:5; 2:47; 11:15-18).
Jesus asserts that the Church will defeat death (that is, the gates of Hades); it will not prevail against God’s people, for Christ will rise from the dead and He will raise them also (v. 18).
In the future, Christ will give Peter the “keys of the kingdom of heaven” with “binding and loosing” authority that heaven (i.e., God) had first discharged (v. 19).
Evangelical scholars understand the authority as resting upon the whole church (though Jesus first confers it upon Peter as an early Church leader), and as being very limited in scope.
The only other time that Scripture mentions “binding and loosing” (yet not the keys) occurs in a local church context where the whole congregation has been given the power to discipline members (cf. Mt. 18: 15-17).
The Church will exercise great authority in the future millennial kingdom when God has perfected her (cf. Rom. 8:17-23).
Having acknowledged to His disciples the truth of His identity as the Messiah, Jesus now commands them not to tell others about it (v. 20).
History had reached the “point of no return”; nothing could prevent His sacrificial death and resurrection from taking place.
Christ now reveals in very specific detail both the certainty and the necessity of these future events (v. 21).
Though fresh off his famous confession, Peter, after hearing this shocking report, commits a verbal blunder by rebuking the One he had just declared divine, saying that God will show mercy to Him and not allow the Jews to kill Him.
The apostle’s outburst shows a definite blind spot in his spiritual comprehension—a misapprehension Jesus seizes upon and rebukes as aligning itself with Satan’s purposes, not God’s (vv. 22-23).
[Ryrie makes the point that Jesus may be continuing the pun on “rock” by calling Peter a “stumbling block” to Him (New Testament Study Bible, 36).
Seldom emphasized, this description aptly portrays the “flip side” of the apostle’s character.]
Denying Oneself: A Call to Radical Discipleship
Having His own death (by crucifixion) made fresh in His mind, Jesus lays down the qualification for “anyone who desires to come after Me”: self-denial to the point of death (v. 24).
To obtain the correct interpretation of this passage, one must understand the meaning of the Greek term psuche.
Should we interpret it to mean “life,” that is, the opportunities that make up one’s time on Earth, or should we understand it as the “soul”: the immortal, immaterial part of one’s being?
[Why do the NKJV translators interpret the term as “life” in verse 25, but as “soul” in verse 26?]
The one who wants to save his life (which he may do if he shrinks back from full commitment to Christ) will lose it.
[In what sense will he lose “it”?
Does Jesus mean that the individual would eternally lose his “soul,” or does He merely refer to the loss of reward the person would have gained had he faithfully served the Lord in the opportunities that make up his life?]
The one who loses his life for Jesus’ sake (that is, commits to denying himself to the point of death) will find it (eternal life [Ryrie, New Testament Study Bible, 36]; that is, salvation [v. 25].
One cannot earn salvation by a work of the flesh: denying oneself for Jesus’ sake; therefore, only Christ can enable one to deny oneself. Jesus asserts that one’s immortal soul is worth more than gaining “the whole world” [cf. 1 John 2:15-17] (v. 26).
[The interpretation “soul” seems preferable to “life” in verse 26, since the “soul” (by God’s creative power) cannot die.]
Jesus (the Messianic king, the Son of Man) predicts His “Second Coming” to Earth when He will reward those who “showed their faith by their works” by admitting them into His kingdom (v. 27; cf. James 2:18; Matt. 25: 31-46).
Speaking of this coming, Christ promises some of His disciples that they will see its fulfillment before they die (v. 28).
An episode missed by some secular interpreters who believe Jesus prophesied He had to come again within the lives of His disciples but failed to live up to that promise, the Transfiguration represents the eventual fulfillment of that prophecy (17: 1-8).
© 2012 glynch1