It’s a pleasure to be back here and actually well enough to speak. It was great to be here last week and just hide in the corner and be blessed by the music and the teaching, and now I’m excited to get to share from God’s word with you again after about a month of being away.
I’d like to thank all of you who have been praying for my family, and who provided meals to us in the first few weeks after welcoming Asher into the world. We’re so incredibly grateful for the caring and generous church family you all are to us and each other.
Unfortunately we go another week without the rest of my family here because we are still struggling through some sickness, hopefully on the tail end of it now, but we don’t want to keep spreading what’s been going around.
Thankfully, what I’ve seen spreading most profusely in our communities the last few weeks has been physical ailments, rather than spiritual corruption, like the leaven of the pharisees Jesus warned about last week.
Of course, there is plenty of that out there too, and it spreads just as rapidly as a virus, or bacteria, or yeast…I couldn’t help but think of that analogy of yeast and relate it to physical sickness, which sometimes we treat as more serious than spiritual sickness, when really it’s the latter that is far more deadly.
That’s the metaphor we ended with last week, and this week we’ll be continuing in Matthew chapter 16, beginning in verse 13.
In the beginning of the chapter, Jesus is essentially scolding the Pharisees and Sadducees for demanding a sign from heaven, and then later in private, Jesus warns his disciples not to be corrupted by the leaven, not to be infected by the bacteria that is being spewed by the Pharisees and Sadducees. Referring, of course, to their corrupted and misguided teaching.
When we come to verse thirteen, we find that they’ve been continuing to travel, they come to a new region, and the discourse between Jesus and his disciples continues. Jesus is not addressing the crowds, he’s not addressing the religious leaders, it’s just him and his inner circle. And he’s going to ask them an important, leading question, and then follow up with some very profound statements.
Matthew 16:13–24 CSB
13 When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?”
14 They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others, Elijah; still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”
15 “But you,” he asked them, “who do you say that I am?”
16 Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”
17 Jesus responded, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, because flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but my Father in heaven. 18 And I also say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overpower it. 19 I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will have been bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will have been loosed in heaven.” 20 Then he gave the disciples orders to tell no one that he was the Messiah.
21 From then on Jesus began to point out to his disciples that it was necessary for him to go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders, chief priests, and scribes, be killed, and be raised the third day. 22 Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, “Oh no, Lord! This will never happen to you!”
23 Jesus turned and told Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me because you’re not thinking about God’s concerns but human concerns.”
24 Then Jesus said to his disciples, “If anyone wants to follow after me, let him deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.
Alright, let’s break this passage down. The way I’ve organized it in my head by looking at it as having six distinct elements, which can be grouped as 3 pairs:
I’m not saying there’s anything theologically significant about this particular outline, it’s just one way to outline this particular section of verses. Really, the passage doesn’t end here, it leads right into the next verse, where Jesus shifts into a teaching moment about what it means to follow him.
So, I’m not even saying these verses were intended by Matthew to be seen as a standalone passage, or that he intentionally organized them in this way, this is just one way to outline this passage.
Yes, we can recognize certain intentional patterns and structures that were placed there, in any book of the Bible, and it’s important to look for those! But it’s also OK to outline a book or a passage in a way that makes logical sense to us, to wrap our heads around the big picture, as long as we’re doing so to better understand the passage, rather than make a passage fit a particular agenda or argument.
In fact, one of my favorite exercises of biblical study of late is to take a short New Testament letter, strip it of modern structure, and spend time attempting to make sense of it without our modern devices that make reading it SO much easier. It forces me to slow down and really pay attention and really look for patterns and repeated phrases and motifs.
And by modern structure, I don’t mean chapter and verse headings.
Remember, back when these were written, the physical resources needed to produce writings, whether on scrolls or on tablets or in architecture and carvings, those physical resources were finite and expensive, so saving space was absolutely crucial!
It would have seemed absurd to actually leave a whole line of space between paragraphs, and utterly wasteful to put spaces between words! Really!
This is what a 4th century Greek manuscript from the New Testament looks like:
There are generous margins, and space between columns, because as you can see those were used to add missing notes, etc. But there are NO spaces between words, and NO paragraph breaks!
This is would that would look like if you applied that same level of efficiency to 3rd John, but with English letters. I used 3rd John just because it’s the shortest of the New Testament letters:
Try reading this letter out loud!
I’m really thankful for the people who took the time to make this text easier to read! When we talk about translating from the oldest manuscripts, we’re not just talking about going from one language to another but also adding spaces, punctuation, and paragraph breaks! We take all that for granted anytime we speed-read through a paragraph.
Anyway, all that to say, this happens to be the outline I’ll be using today, but it’s just my personal approach, not the only one.
So, let’s start with the questions. Jesus asks two questions, first a leading question, then a follow-up, pointed question.
First, he asks “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?”
Other manuscripts say, “Who do people say that I, the Son of Man, am?”
He is unambiguously referring to himself by this statement, even if it’s stated in the 3rd person. This is further made evident by his second question, [SLIDE] “But YOU, who do YOU say that I am?”
Look at these two questions, and how they are worded. Obviously, Jesus knows the answer, so he’s pursuing this line of questioning, intentionally, to draw something out of his disciples, to make them think and to prompt a vocal profession of faith. No doubt, he could discern this was a key moment for Peter in particular, in his spiritual development.
It’s clear that he expected a different answer from his disciples, a different explanation of who he was, that somehow contrasted what everyone else was saying.
At this point in his ministry of discipleship, he was expecting some growth, to see some difference in their discernment of him because of the extra time he had spent with them, constantly teaching and leading them.
Jesus always expects this of his followers! He’ll meet us wherever we are, regardless of our past and baggage, but spending quality time with him, in the word and presence of God, truly opening our hearts and surrendering to him, that yields results! It produces wisdom, understanding, the fruit of the spirit, and good works.
In Jesus asking these questions, he’s revealing their growth, which we’ve already seen at least once before, in their growing ability to interpret his parables on their own.
Now, he wants them to interpret his identity.
Alright, now let’s look at their answers.
First, “they,” the people in general, people who have seen or heard Jesus, or heard of him and rumors and gossip of him, basically “the word on the street.”
“The word on the street” they say is that you’re either John the Baptist (which we know is what Herod thought, so his paranoia could have certainly contributed to that rumor), or Elijah (which makes sense because of how closely John was tied to Elijah), or Jeremiah or one of the prophets.
Basically, the word on the street is that he’s a prophet, and possibly one of the great prophets reincarnate, but there’s not a total concensus as to which one.
They might think John the Baptist because Jesus started his ministry right around when John was arrested, and his fame spread in the wake of John’s death, so it kind of would like like Jesus popped up out of nowhere right as soon as John was beheaded.
Many would have thought of Elijah because of the promise of Elijah’s return at the end of Malachi, the end of the Old Testament:
Malachi 4:5 CSB
5 Look, I am going to send you the prophet Elijah before the great and terrible day of the Lord comes.
Or they may have thought of Jeremiah because of similarities in their teaching, or any of the other prophets or preached judgment and repentance but faced rejection and persecution.
What’s interesting is that we know from the story so far that Jesus HAS been called other things, hasn’t he? He’s been identified by some as an evil person sent from Satan, and his disciples don’t mention that. Maybe it’s because Jesus already directly addressed that and shut down that logic? Or they only wanted to tell him the opinions which were positive? Or that might make sense?
Really, those other guesses weren’t terrible guesses, they were wrong, but at least they recognized that Jesus was certainly somebody significant. He was somebody, and somebody who was walking and talking and healing and preaching like someone sent from Yahweh God, and promising the kingdom of God. Certainly not someone against God like some accused him of.
But, certainly, someone promising new horizons and a new kingdom!
This made him intriguing and even attractive to people who were oppressed by the current systems and kingdoms of their world, while making him offensive and intimidating to those who controlled those systems and kingdoms. In both cases, they viewed Jesus as a revolutionary, which either made him a hero or a villain, salvation or a threat, depending on where you stood.
Jesus was, in some ways a revolutionary, but not concerning the politics and power struggles of his day, no, his thoughts of “revolution” were much bigger than that! He had a much bigger picture in mind: the uprooting of evil and restoring humanity to what we were called to be. Calling out spiritual corruption in the Jewish elite and introducing the whole world, not just Abraham’s descendant, to God’s love, mercy, blessing, hope, and justice. To his life-giving spirit and the truth of his word.
So, yes they recognized him as significant but didn’t quite grasp who he was. And Jesus knows that his disciples are starting to catch on, so he presses them...
“What about YOU?”
And Simon says, “You are the Messiah, the son of the living God.”
Simon recognizes that this Son of Man, this human standing in their midst, is far more than just a human, far more even than just a prophet, he is both those things yes, but, he is THE Messiah, THE chosen one, the savior of Israel and all mankind. And he’s realized that the Messiah is none other than the physical manifestation of the divine presence of the one true and living God. Yahweh incarnate.
This truth has been alluded to and expressed in various ways throughout the whole story of Matthew, but this is the first time we see one of his disciples really put it all together and make such an explicit and profound profession of faith in Jesus.
Simon is the first of the apostles to confess Jesus as Christ, the son of God. It’s a big moment! And so it’s fitting that Jesus replies with a rather momentous statement.
This brings us to the next two points, the Blessing & The Command.
When Jesus responds to Simon, immediately it’s with a blessing. He addresses Simon directly, and speaks with the gravitas of divine authority.
The blessing is given in three parts.
In verse 17, Jesus first addresses the divine revelation that has taken place.
In verse 18, he gives Simon a nickname, Peter, which means “rock,” and explains the significance of that.
Then in verse 19, he says he’ll give Peter the keys to the kingdom!? And something about binding and loosing stuff...Whoa! What does that mean?
So, in those three verses we have stuff about Revelation, a Rock, and Keys. Let’s look at each of those briefly.
The first thing Jesus says is that Simon is blessed because God has chosen to reveal the truth to him. He didn’t come to this understanding by “flesh and blood” in other words, no human explained this truth to him, it was the holy spirit revealing it to his heart.
Ultimately, none of us can take credit for any spiritual understanding or wisdom of our own, because it is only by the gift and the grace of the holy spirit opening our eyes to the truth that we can see Jesus for who he is. Simon got to experience this, possibly the first to truly grasp it, and Jesus is acknowledging what a tremendous blessing that is. Remember, this is before Jesus’s death and resurrection, before his ascension, before the day of Pentecost when God’s spirit was poured out on all the apostles and gushed freely to the thousands and thousands ready to receive it.
It’s like Peter’s getting an early, sneak-preview into the truth that has not yet, but will soon be revealed. What an honor!
Ironically enough, Jesus is about to call him Satan in a few verses, and Peter will go on to deny Jesus three times, but we’ll get to that.
The second part of the blessing is where Jesus first calls Simon by a new name: Peter. Matthew has previously identified him as Simon Peter, to help distinguish him from other Simons, but this is where that particular name actually comes into play in the story.
The significance of this name is that it’s a play on the Greek word for “rock,” and Jesus is identifying Peter, Petros, as his Petra, Rock.
(Yes, that’s why there’s a Christian rock band named Petra).
Jesus says he’s going to build his church on the foundation of Peter’s confession and of the leadership he would step into later on. And he says that such a foundation will be so strong that the gates of hell don’t stand a chance against it.
It’s almost as if Jesus is returning that sense of trust and faith that Peter has for him and saying “Peter, because you trust in me, I’m going entrust my church, my people, to you.” That’s deep!
Now, it’s important not to get too carried away with this and ascribe too much authority to Peter. For one thing, we know he still had a lot to learn and was never perfect.
And although he played an amazing, pivotal role in the foundation of the church, ultimately Christ alone is the cornerstone upon which everything rests. And right here in this passage, Jesus says the HE is the one building HIS church. We all play roles as “stones,” and Peter certainly has a special place in the history of the church, but Jesus is THE cornerstone and head.
Peter was given a special blessing here, though, and Jesus really reiterates this with the third and final piece. In verse 19 Jesus says he will give Peter the keys of the kingdom of heaven.
Now, this has led to some people picturing Peter literally standing at the gates of heaven, holding the keys, and deciding who gets to go in and who gets rejected.
Is that what it means?
Let’s think about this for a moment.
Jesus has used kingdom and gate analogy before, hasn’t he?
And he’s already identified the gate to the kingdom, hasn’t he?
Jesus IS the gate! So, what does it mean to have keys to the kingdom, if Jesus is the gate?
Well, because this is coming in response to Peter’s confession of Jesus as Messiah, Son of God, it would seem that Jesus is saying Peter will play a pivotal role in revealing, unlocking that truth for countless others. And indeed, we see that happen in the book of Acts, Peter is used as an agent of divine revelation, of unlocking truth, for thousands of people, starting a chain reaction that would spread for thousands of years around the globe.
So what about this “binding” and “loosing” stuff?
Those words to “bind” and “loose” were used by Jewish rabbis to describe the process of “prohibiting” or “allowing” things in their extensive system of rules and rituals.
Note though, the wording that makes it clear what Peter “binds” or “looses” or “prohibits” or “allows” on earth will have already been allowed in heaven. Again, this speaks to Peter’s role as an agent of divine revelation, of demonstrating heavenly truths on earth.
Peter would eventually experiencing the “loosing” or “letting go” of the necessity for strict adherence to the kosher diet, which itself was analogous to “letting go” of refusing to associate or eat with gentiles.
Overall, Jesus’s blessing to Peter does certainly show that he had a very special role in the formation of the church. He went on to do incredible things, and this passage is a foreshadowing, or even a prophetic statement.
What it does NOT mean is that all ecclesiastical authority in the church must be somehow derived from Peter, NOR does it mean that Peter is standing at the pearly gates deciding who gets in. That concept of a closed gate with a gatekeeper actually comes from Germanic mythology, not the Bible. God alone is judge of who enters the kingdom, and NOBODY is turned away from the gate, because the gate is Jesus, and it’s wide open to all who are willing to enter.
Alright, when Jesus is done speaking directly to Peter, he addresses the rest of the disciples, along with Peter, all together. And he tells them NOT to tell anyone that he was the Messiah.
Peter just spoke divine truth, and Jesus says “AMAZING YES YOU GOT IT!” “But nobody tell anyone.”
Why does he say this? Why would he want to hide the truth from people? Isn’t he here to spread truth and light?
Well, later on he’s going to give the opposite command: “TELL EVERYONE EVERYWHERE!” so this is clearly a temporary, “not yet” kind of command. There are still things he needs to do before he leaves.
Ultimately, one of the things he knows he will need to do is to give himself up to the angry mob of people wanting him dead.
Reading on, in verse 21, it says “From then on...”
Whoa! Hold up! We’ve heard that phrase before!
This is one of those transitional phrases we’ve been on the lookout for! And this one denotes the transition into the last of the 3 MAJOR sections of the book. This phrase divides the Introduction from the main body, and the main body from the conclusion.
So yes, I’m crossing into the next major section here, but I had to at least spend a little time juxtaposing this encounter between Jesus and Peter with the last.
Now, just because we’re entering into the conclusion of the book doesn’t mean there’s no more narrative or meat to the book, but it IS meant to be a signal of the beginning of the end, so to speak.
Which makes sense, because it says Jesus started to talk a lot about the end…about suffering and dying and resurrecting. He “kept pointing it out” and at some point Peter just couldn’t take it any more!
Again, realize that it’s very likely Peter’s the one picking up on what Jesus is saying much more clearly than anyone else, because of what God had revealed to him.
But he doesn’t like it. Of course he doesn’t!
So he pulls Jesus aside and says “look, what you’re saying is going to happen is not going to happen.” In my words, it would be something like “You know what Jesus, you really gotta stop talking like that. It’s freakin me out and you can’t let that happen. We won’t let that happen.”
Clearly, even after all the honor and adulation of the previous passage, Peter still has a lot to learn, and has some messianic expectations that will need to be adjusted!
Now, undoubtedly, Peter was also saying this out of his deep love for Jesus! Nobody wants to hear someone they love talk about being tortured to death!
Nevertheless, Peter was, whether he intended to or not, overstepping his bounds by daring to rebuke Jesus for anything, regardless of what it was, and specifically for trying to steer Jesus off the path set before him. Trying to tempt him away from from the cross.
This is exactly the tactic the satan used back at the beginning, after Jesus was baptised, trying to “tempt” Jesus to take his royal place before it was time, or through means other than the cross.
So yeah, Jesus responds rather harshly, doesn’t he! “Get behind me Satan!” Whoa!!!
Now, this could be read as simply a way of really emphasizing to Peter the grave importance of not trying to interfere, or a more literal declaration of authority over any spiritual influence which may have been affecting Peter at the time.
Either way, it is important to realize that the word “satan” comes from a Hebrew word, satan, and it is NOT a name, it’s not a proper noun. It’s a title, and in fact it’s used with an article, “the” so it’s “the satan” like “the king” or “the jester.” And literally, it means “Adversary” or “Opponent”, and is related to the words for “Accuse” or “Charge” like in a court of law, as well as “to fall away or swerve”
It’s the idea of someone who you are against, who is trying to cause you to stumble. Of course, that word has come to refer to a variety of specific persons or being in the Bible, not every reference to “the satan” necessarily refers to the same being.
Anyway, it’s a harsh word for Jesus to use when addressing Peter, to be sure, but it’s not necessarily a reference to a literal, specific demonic presence in the room at the time. It could be, and I’m sure it’s meant to evoke the image of Satan tempting Jesus in the desert, but the bottom line is that Peter, whether by ignorance or influence, has become a stumbling block, a trap, a hindrance, to Jesus’s ministry, and this is meant to put an end to that swiftly and strictly.
While Peter had made a major breakthrough just a few verses before, we can see that was far from the end of Peter’s spiritual maturity and growth. In this case, he had not yet learned to see things from God’s perspective, from a heavenly perspective, and was too caught up in his own human perspective.
Of course, learning that perspective is a life-long learning curve! None of us are perfect! As great as Peter was, and as much as he would grow and mature in his knowledge of Christ and the kingdom, he also had his weaknesses and shortcomings. So did Paul, so did everyone, so do all of us. But that’s ok…none of us needs to BE Christ…none of us can BE Christ, Jesus did that for us. But we certainly can seek Christ, follow Christ, be filled by Christ, and live imperfectly Christlike reflections of his life and love in the world around us.
What does it look like to “Think about God’s concerns” rather than human concerns? Or to have a Kingdom-minded perspective?
Perhaps one of the most straightforward and often quoted teachings on this subject comes from Paul in his letter to Colossians, chapter 3, and I’m going to close with this passage:
Colossians 3:1–17 CSB
1 So if you have been raised with Christ, seek the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. 2 Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. 3 For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. 4 When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.
5 Therefore, put to death what belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desire, and greed, which is idolatry. 6 Because of these, God’s wrath is coming upon the disobedient, 7 and you once walked in these things when you were living in them. 8 But now, put away all the following: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and filthy language from your mouth. 9 Do not lie to one another, since you have put off the old self with its practices 10 and have put on the new self. You are being renewed in knowledge according to the image of your Creator. 11 In Christ there is not Greek and Jew, circumcision and uncircumcision, barbarian, Scythian, slave and free; but Christ is all and in all.
12 Therefore, as God’s chosen ones, holy and dearly loved, put on compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, 13 bearing with one another and forgiving one another if anyone has a grievance against another. Just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you are also to forgive. 14 Above all, put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity. 15 And let the peace of Christ, to which you were also called in one body, rule your hearts. And be thankful. 16 Let the word of Christ dwell richly among you, in all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another through psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts. 17 And whatever you do, in word or in deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.