Matthew 16:1 – And the Pharisees and Sadducees came, and to test him they asked him to show them a sign from heaven.
This is the second time that the religious leaders had asked for a sign. They wanted some kind of sign that was in the sky; perhaps like Samuel calling down rain and thunder (I Samuel 12:16-18) or Isaiah asking God to move the shadow back 10 degrees on the dial of Ahaz (Isaiah 38:8).
As we discussed before, God is not opposed to signs. However, they are not substitutes for wisdom gained through the bible or time spent in prayer. They are not substitutes for hearing God speak directly to you (scripture says that every child of God can hear his voice). If a sign is still desired after these avenues have been exhausted, then the request must come from a pure heart with a true inward desire to know and understand God’s leading.
This was not the case with the religious leaders. They were more or less issuing Jesus a challenge, hoping that he would fail and be exposed as a fake in front of the people.
Besides, what could be more stupendous than the miracles of healing and provision that had already been manifested?
Matthew 16:2-3 – He answered them, “When it is evening you say, ‘It will be fair weather, for the sky is red.’ And in the morning, ‘It will be stormy today, for the sky is red and threatening.’ You know how to interpret the appearance of the sky, but you cannot interpret the signs of the times.”
There are certain indications by which the people of that day could judge the weather, namely the color of the sky.
Likewise, there are indications by which they should have easily recognized Jesus as the Messiah. These were not ignorant heathen; these were God’s chosen people who had studied and kept the covenant for generations! So why didn’t they recognize the signs of the Messiah?
They missed ‘the time of their visitation’ (Luke 19:44) because they willingly hardened their hearts and shut their eyes to the truth. They were excessively focused on the rituals of this earthly life, while being blind to the true spiritual aspect of their relationship to God.
Do you think the people of this generation are blind to anything? Here is something to think about: There is much division in the church over the role of the Holy Spirit in the believer’s life today. Many different doctrines have been taught to people over the years. What were you taught regarding the role of the Holy Spirit in today’s world?
If there is any question about the Holy Spirit’s operation in your life, I urge you to seek God in prayer about this issue, with an open heart and mind. If you do, God will reveal the truth to you.
Matthew 16:4 – “An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of Jonah.” So he left them and departed.
We have already studied the sign of the prophet Jonah, back in Matthew chapter 12. You can review that material, if you need to.
Jesus rebuked the people of his day, because they did not stop and take the time to carefully examine the evidence that was plainly presented to them. They should have compared the works of Jesus to the evidence given to them by the Old Testament prophets, then humbly taken their conclusions to God in prayer, asking for confirmation. Had they done so, the truth would have revealed itself.
What about you? Have you given any thought to the claims of Jesus? Do you believe he is the Messiah who came to forgive your sin, if only you will ask him? Or are you too, ignoring the signs around you?
Is it possible that you are you a person who is happy to go to church each week, and be in the company of true believers, but you haven’t yet made a commitment of your own to Christ?
If this describes you, or if you are not sure, I encourage you to examine the evidence for yourself. Look at the Christians around you. They will testify of the love, peace, provision, wisdom, protection, joy and strength that God gives them every day.
Compare this evidence to what you see in the scriptures. You will soon come to the conclusion that God is surely alive and well on planet earth, and that he wants to forgive your sin and be Lord of your life!
Matthew 16:5 – When the disciples reached the other side, they had forgotten to bring any bread.
Jesus and his disciples left the eastern side of the sea of Galilee and sailed over to the western side. When they arrived at their destination, they quickly realized that they did not take a sufficient amount of food with them (Mark 8:14 indicates that they had a single loaf of bread).
Matthew 16:6-7 – Jesus said to them, “Watch and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” And they began discussing it among themselves, saying, “We brought no bread.”
Leaven is noun. It refers to a substance (typically yeast), that is used in dough to make it rise. Leaven is also a verb. When used this way, it is defined as “a pervasive influence that modifies something or transforms it”.
As you already know, leaven is invisible after you mix it into dough. But after just a couple of hours, you can see that it has spread through the whole batch of dough, and caused a change or transformation.
Let’s look at the spiritual truth that this demonstrates.
Jesus and his disciples had just interacted with the religious leaders, who were asking for a sign from heaven to confirm that Jesus was the Messiah. In so doing, they clearly demonstrated their lack of spiritual discernment. They stubbornly clung to their own spiritual blindness by continuing to deny that Jesus was the Messiah. As your recall, these men were the spiritual teachers of Israel. The nation in general revered and trusted them. The people relied on them to correctly explain and interpret the covenant.
So we have a group of popular, revered and trusted teachers, who are actually without any spiritual knowledge or understanding at all! Their unbelief, pride, hypocrisy and public rejection of Jesus was like an evil leaven that was diffused far and wide, and trickled down to all ranks and classes of the Jewish nation. As such, it was very dangerous indeed, for if left unchecked or unchallenged, their pervasive influence of unbelief would modify or transform the nation, causing them to reject Jesus as the Messiah. As we look back, we can see that this is exactly what happened!
Matthew 16:8-10 – But Jesus, aware of this, said, “O you of little faith, why are you discussing among yourselves the fact that you have no bread? Do you not yet 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?
Once again, the disciples have failed to grasp that Jesus is speaking in spiritual terms. This is not the first time they missed it. In John 6, they did not understand that Jesus was the bread of life. In John 4, they did not understand that Jesus had spiritual food to eat (accomplishing the will of the Father), etc.
It is interesting to note that the gospel writers must have given accurate and true accounts of the events they witnessed, because if they were altering events in any way, they would surely have made themselves look less foolish and ignorant!
Matthew 16:11-12 – How is it that you fail to understand that I did not speak bout bread? Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” Then they understood that he did not tell them to beware of the leaven of bread, but of the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees.
The disciples had been with Jesus for a long time now. They were well acquainted with his style of preaching and teaching. They knew that Jesus took earthly examples and used them to teach spiritual principles about the kingdom of Heaven (parables).
Jesus always explained to them the spiritual aspects of the parables he gave to the crowds. They, of all people, should know to look for the spiritual meaning, not the literal physical meaning of Jesus’ words. After Jesus scolds them, they stopped to think for a moment and finally understood what he meant.
Matthew 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?”
Jesus and the disciples move on to the region of Caesarea Philippi, in the northern part of Judea. The city was enlarged and beautified by Philip the Tetrarch, son of Herod. He called it Caesarea in honor of the Roman emperor, and added his own name to it because there was already a city named Caesarea.
This conversation seems to be taking place as they travel to the city.
Jesus did not ask his disciples this question because he was ignorant of what people thought and spoke about him. The time had come for him to slowly start revealing to the disciples that his death was approaching. He was giving the disciples an opportunity to express their faith in him, which he was then going to confirm and strengthen.
Matthew 16:14 – And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, other say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”
Of course, all of these opinions are false. The people had seen the miracles and heard the teaching which confirmed he was the Messiah, but Jesus was so different from what they expected, that they rejected the obvious conclusion. I am sure they were partly influenced by the religious leaders. Since they rejected the truth, they are left with only false conjectures of his true identity and purpose.
Matthew 16:15-16 – He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”
Here is the true purpose behind Jesus’ question. Peter answers for all the apostles.
You are the Christ – the Messiah, the anointed one of God. You are prophet, priest and king. You will remove our sin and impart to us perfect righteousness.
The Son – you are both divine and eternal.
Of the living God – you are God in the flesh. The adjective ‘living’ is always applied to God. God sees, hears, understands, laughs, creates, judges and a whole host of other things. All of these show a contrast between the living God and dead, lifeless idols.
In other words, the disciples express their full belief that Jesus was indeed the long expected Messiah.
Matthew 16:17 – And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you but my Father who is in heaven.”
‘Bar’ means ‘son of’. So Jesus addresses him as Simon, son of Jonah.
Peter’s revelation could have come from only one of two sources: the flesh (his fellow man or his fleshly mind), or the spirit (God).
Man looks on the outward appearance. When anyone looked at Jesus as he walked the earth, what did they see? A lowly, humble carpenter. Jesus had no riches or earthly splendor or political influence, or military might. He did not become the head of the religious leaders. According to earthly standards/outward appearances, there was no indication that Jesus was the Messiah (at least not the Messiah the Jews were expecting). Based on his miracles, the people felt that he was nothing more than a prophet.
However, the true power, glory, mission and identity of Jesus were fully known to God. Therefore, only the Holy Spirit could have given this revelation of Jesus to Peter and the other apostles. The scripture tells us:
John 17:3 – And this is life eternal, that they might know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.
Anyone who can confess that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God has eternal life. And anyone with eternal life is surely blessed (highly favored, happy, fortunate)!
Matthew 16:18 – “And I tell you, you are Peter and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.”
What a wonderful, encouraging, victorious scripture! As such, we should not be surprised that our enemy has created controversy over it. Let’s examine the different interpretations:
One view is that the word “rock” refers to Peter’s confession. Thus, the truth or confession that Jesus is the Messiah is the basis upon which the church will be built. Those who confess it are part of the church; the church will stand upon this confession of faith in the midst of persecution and be victorious.
A second view is that the word “rock” refers to Jesus himself. Thus, the church is built upon a foundation of Jesus as the Messiah. Those who trust in Christ as their foundation are part of the church. They will be victorious because they rely on Christ.
A third view is that the word “rock” refers to Peter himself. Thus, Peter becomes the one who builds the church by sharing/teaching/expounding the gospel message with both the Jews and Gentiles. Hell cannot prevail against the church that is built up by Peter (or his successors).
A fourth interpretation also presents itself. In this case, Jesus is the rock, the cornerstone, upon which the church is built. However, Peter is also a rock; he has strength, stability and firmness of faith. He lays the foundations of the church through his preaching and teaching the gospel message. The good news is delivered to both Jews and Gentiles and thousands become part of the church. The other disciples, and Paul, are also builders of the church of Jesus Christ.
What did Jesus mean when he referred to ‘the gates of Hell’? Ancient cities were surrounded by walls. The gates were not only places of entry, but public venues used for holding court, transacting business, discussing public matters and even creating policy. So, when a city gate is referred to, it means not just the city, but the councils, judicial decisions and business of the city.
So, in this case, the ‘gates of hell’ refers to the evil plans of our enemy, Satan. It includes all the plots, strategies, lies/half truths and temptations that he will use against mankind. But – praise God – we are victorious over these evil councils through Jesus Christ our Lord! Since the church is upheld by Christ’s power and promise, she will never be vanquished by the devil!
Matthew 16:19 – “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”
Jesus confers power to the apostles to bind and loose. To bind something was to forbid or refuse it; to loose something was to grant or allow it to be done. This authority was given in conjunction with the keys of the kingdom.
Keys unlock things. As such, we could say they grant access to things. For example, you probably have a key to your house. The key unlocks your door and grants you lawful access to everything inside the house.
Legal access to the house also implies stewardship. As the person with the key, you have power and authority over access to the house and everything in it. You are the administrator or caretaker of the house. If the roof leaks, you need to get it fixed. If the walls need painted, you have to arrange for that to happen, etc.
In the Old Testament times, when a Jew became a doctor of the law, he was given a key to the closet in the temple where the sacred books were kept. He was also given access to tablets and writing instruments. In other words, the key gave him access and responsibility – access to the sacred writings and the responsibility to carefully teach and expound the scriptures to people.
Here in our text, Jesus is giving Peter (and the other disciples) access/responsibility to the kingdom of Heaven.
This means that the disciples, led by Peter, would be the instruments of opening the door of faith/salvation to the world – first to the Jews, then to the Gentiles. Events unfolded exactly as Jesus said they would:
Acts 2:14 – But Peter, standing with the eleven, lifted up his voice and addressed them, “Men of Judea and all who dwell in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and give ear to my words…”
Beginning in verse 14, (and ending in verses 41), Peter preaches the gospel to the Jews on the day of Pentecost and 3000 were save that day.
Then, in Acts chapter 10, Peter preaches to the Gentiles in the house of Cornelius and all the Gentiles there were saved.
They also had the responsibility for establishing the order and government of the church. These included things such as doctrine, discipline, administration of the sacraments and full authority to preach. This power and authority was to be used in conjunction with the leading of the Holy Spirit.
The keys of authority in the church have been passed down from generation to generation and they now lie with God’s present day ministers. These are men and women that God has appointed or called to govern the church as it exists in any particular church or congregation. This authority will continue until the end of the gospel dispensation. Like the apostles of old, this power and authority is to be used in conjunction with the Holy Spirit.
Matthew 16:20 – Then he strictly charged the disciples to tell no one that he was the Christ.
Why would Jesus adamantly command the disciples not to broadcast that he was the Messiah?
The answer is that the proper time for him to be revealed had not quite come yet. To proclaim him as Messiah at that time would have aroused the hatred of the Jews and probably the Romans as well (they were certainly not going to be happy if Jesus stood up and claimed to be king).
Besides, Jesus was not going to rely on just the words of men to prove that he was the Messiah. His role as Messiah would be clearly established by his coming death and resurrection.
Matthew 16:21 – From that time Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.
Let’s give the disciples (especially Peter) a little slack. After all, they are in uncharted waters. If Jesus had given them the whole scenario of God’s plan all at once (his earthly ministry, his conflicts with the Jewish religious leaders, his arrest and death, his resurrection and his ascension to heaven), it would have just been way too much for the disciples to process. It would have blown their minds. They would probably have walked away from him.
Instead, Jesus leads them through God’s plan step by step. They had heard the teaching. They had seen the miracles. They had just taken the major step of confessing that Jesus was (beyond all doubt), the Messiah who was to come. Now Jesus reveals to them the next step in God’s plan – the Messiah was not only going to suffer but also die; then be raised to life again.
The location of his death would be their beloved city of Jerusalem. The persons who would cause his great suffering were the elders, chief priests and scribes, aka, the religious leaders of the day.
This was not what the Apostles were expecting. Like their fellow Jews, they believed the Messiah would set up an earthly kingdom after he was revealed to the world. Hence Peter, who was looking for a triumphant Messiah, could not fathom the death of Jesus.
This is the first of many instances where Jesus must correct their thinking on this subject. It is important that they understand what will happen, so their faith will not fail when he is crucified. Also, by foretelling his death and resurrection, he proves to the disciples that all this is in accordance with the perfect will and plans of the Father.
Matthew 16:22-23 – And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him saying, “Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you.” But he turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.”
This was a replay of the temptation that Satan presented to Jesus in the desert (Matthew chapter 4). As you know, the devil offered to give Jesus all the kingdoms of this world without the pain and suffering of dying on the cross, if only Jesus would fall down and worship him.
In this case, Peter knew that Jesus had sufficient power to protect his life against the hatred of the Jews and the authority of the Romans. He wanted Jesus to exert that power and save himself.
But Jesus viewed his suggestion as a stumbling block. It was another enticement to abandon the will of his Father and bypass the suffering of the cross. Because Peter was opposing the plans and purposes of God, Jesus calls him Satan or Adversary.
Matthew 16:24 – Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.”
Three things are required of the person who would be a disciple of Christ.
First, a disciple must be willing to deny himself. What is self denial? It means to renounce whatever comes into competition with the love and service of Christ. It means to completely surrender your will to the heavenly Father, just as Jesus did.
Suppose your normal morning routine is to get a cup of coffee and spend an hour looking at social media. That is certainly not a sin.
But what if your only time to spend in prayer is that same hour each morning? If you want to be a disciple of Christ, you must give first place to the love and service of Christ. You must practice self denial with regards to spending that hour in social media.
Self denial also includes forsaking the sins of the world. For example, the world approves of having sexual relationships with many different people, regardless of whether or not you are married. The bible, however, teaches that sexual relationships should exist exclusively within a marriage. The disciple of Christ must forsake things approved by the world if they are in opposition to the teachings of Christ.
Self denial also includes giving up your rights if they cause your brother to stumble. For instance, you may feel that it is okay for Christians to drink wine; your conscience does not bother you when you drink it. However, there may be another believer in your congregation who feels it is a sin to drink wine. If you go out to dinner together, you should avoid drinking wine, because it is a stumbling block to your brother in Christ.
I Corinthians 8:13 – Therefore, if food makes my brother to stumble, I will eat no meat while the world stands, lest I make my brother to stumble.
Disciples of Christ must not only practice self denial, but they are to take up their cross. This is an allusion to the Roman custom of making criminals carry their own cross on the way to their crucifixion. The cross was a burden or a difficulty to carry. So each Christian must bear some afflictions or troubles which come as a result of being righteous or doing the right thing.
And finally, the disciple is to follow Christ in all that they do.
Now let’s be honest. Self denial and patient suffering don’t sound like much fun, do they? But Jesus puts it all into perspective for us in the next verses.
Matthew 16:25 – “For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”
The word ‘life’ is used in two different senses.
The person who is anxious to save his earthly life (including his comfort, pleasure and security here on earth), will not make it into heaven. He will lose his eternal life.
The person who is willing to risk/lose his life (including his comfort, pleasure and security here on earth) for the sake of Jesus and the gospel, will find everlasting life.
Matthew 16:26 – “For what will it profit a man if he gains the while world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul?”
The average life expectancy for an American woman is 78.5 years. For the average American male, it is 76.1 years. So, let’s assume an approximate average of 77 years. If it takes you until the age of 20 to “gain the whole world”, that leaves you a mere 57 years to enjoy what you have acquired. Of course, there is no guarantee that you will be healthy or happy, but you would have the whole world at your disposal for a time.
How long is eternity? That’s right – it goes on forever. So compare 57 years of possible good health and happiness and pleasure to an eternity of guaranteed happiness, health, joy, peace, pleasure, discovery, beauty and who knows what else!
Romans 8:18 – For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.
Which option do you choose? This comparison should open our eyes to the importance (necessity) of being a disciple of Jesus while we have the chance. The apostle Paul tells us that whatever self denial we experience in this life will all be worth it in eternity!
Matthew 16:27 – “For the Son of Man is going to come with his angles in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay each person according to what he has done.”
The Lord Jesus Christ will one day return to the world. On that occasion, he will not be coming as a humble servant or sacrificial lamb. He will come in the fullness of his glory and majesty, as Almighty God. He will be accompanied by angels and he will judge all men.
At that time he will reward/repay each human being for what they have done. Those who have loved righteousness and followed Jesus will be rewarded with eternal life with God.
Those who have embraced wickedness and sought the rewards of this life while forsaking Christ will also be rewarded – with eternity in the lake of fire!
Matthew 16:28 – “Truly, I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.
As we just mentioned, there will come a day when Jesus returns to this earth in the fullness of his glory. But his actual kingdom would be established long, long before that time. In fact, the coming of his kingdom was so close, that there were some with him who would live to see it.
His kingdom was established by the birth of the church on the day of Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit was poured out. This was followed by the destruction of Jerusalem and the scattering of the Jews who were bitter enemies to Christianity.
So let me offer you some encouragement: If you are reading this blog, chances are that you have already made a commitment to be a disciple of Christ. This automatically makes you different from society. And sometimes, being different can be difficult. But be encouraged – it won’t be long until we are with Christ for eternity! Then, we will see that all of our crosses were nothing in comparison with what God has in store for us during eternity!
Let me offer you some relief and some strength: Jesus tells us that even a little leaven can impact a whole batch of dough. What about you and me? Perhaps we have not preached to thousands of people, or written best selling Christian books, or ministered in a foreign country. But that doesn’t mean that we are not influencing people for Christ. So let your light shine in the place where you are; you can display the gospel to people that no one else can reach!