Gospel of Matthew

Matthew - Lesson 16B

Chapter 16:13-20

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  • Over the past several weeks, we’ve watched in bemusement as Jesus trained His disciples how to serve the Kingdom program 

    • Those men struggled to make sense of it all, and to be fair Jesus’ lesson would have been hard for anyone to grasp

      • Because Jesus wasn’t running just another rabbinical school preparing men to perpetuate Pharisaic Judaism 

      • Jesus was a rabbi unlike any other…and therefore His ministry would be unlike anything else the disciples had known before

      • The Lord was preparing these men to lead a new, worldwide movement of God

      • They would live on the frontlines of a spiritual battle for truth and the salvation of the world…and that’s no small assignment 

    • So where do you start in preparing someone for such a high calling? 

      • Well, Lesson #1 is knowing that Jesus is God… they were in the company of the Messiah, the Lord’s anointed One

      • And Lesson #2 is appreciating the significance that God became man to live and die for us

      • Because at the end of the day, the Church isn’t about miraculously feeding hungry people or healing diseases

    • Our mission as ambassadors of Christ is saving souls, calling men and women to be reconciled to God…that’s what all this is about

      • So understanding that Jesus came to bring forgiveness and hope and eternal life to lost sinners is paramount

      • And more than that, those men needed to understand that they were to do it as Christ did it, following in Jesus’ footsteps

      • Just as the Son of God came to seek and save the lost, so will His disciples seek to serve the lowly and needy with the good news

  • Grasping all that is a tall order, so perhaps it’s understandable that these men were so slow to catch on to what Jesus was saying and doing 

    • But last week they had a breakthrough of sorts

      • Look back to the end of prior passage in vs.11-12

Matt. 16:11 “How is it that you do not understand that I did not speak to you concerning bread? But beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees.”
Matt. 16:12 Then they understood that He did not say to beware of the leaven of bread, but of the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees.
  • Jesus chastised them for their lack of faith in Him and for failing to pay attention to all they had seen and heard

    • The final straw was their ignorance of Jesus’ comment about beware the leaven of Pharisees, Sadducees and Herodians 

    • Jesus was speaking of the dangers of each group’s false teaching while the disciples were thinking only of trivial matters

  • After Jesus corrected them, Matthew says then they understood what Jesus meant, and that gives us hope they turned the corner

    • Maybe they were starting to grasp the enormity of what was happening around them

    • And most importantly, maybe their hearts were finally opening to Who Jesus was and what His arrival meant?

  • Well there’s only one way to find out…so Jesus decides it’s time to test their understanding starting with Lesson #1 

Matt. 16:13 Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, He was asking His disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?”
Matt. 16:14 And they said, “Some say John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; but still others, Jeremiah, or one of the prophets.”
Matt. 16:15 He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?”
Matt. 16:16 Simon Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”
  • Matthew tells us that Jesus goes to the district of Caesarea Philippi

    • This district sits at the base of Mt. Hermon, the tallest mountain in the Middle East, nearly 9,000 ft high

      • Today, the northern half of the range is in Syria and the southern half is in Israel 

      • In Jesus’ day, the region was largely Gentile, much like the eastern side of the sea of Galilee

      • This area was under the rule of one of Herod the Great’s descendants, Herod Philip II

    • And at the foot of Mt. Hermon sat a small town called Paneas, which Philip renamed Caesarea to honor Caesar

      • At that time, there was already another city called Caesarea in Judea built by Herod the Great on the Mediterranean coast

      • So to distinguish one town from the other, this Caesarea became known as Caesarea Philippi 

    • It’s original name, Paneas, came from a temple in the town dedicated to an ancient pagan god, Pan 

      • Pan was a figure of Greek mythology depicted as half man, half goat 

      • He was the god of nature and outdoors, and his followers engaged in wild fertility rituals and other extreme behavior

      • For that reason, we get the word “panic” from the god’s name

    • The temple of Pan was located in a cave at the base of Mt Hermon, the ruins of which are still visible today

      • Scholars have assumed that this encounter between Jesus and His disciples took place somewhere near the Pan temple 

      • But Mark says this conversation took place among the men as they traveled to Caesarea Philippi

      • So perhaps they were near the Pan temple, perhaps not

  • In any case, Jesus asks His disciples who do the people say the Son of Man is, and Mark records the question as who do they say I am?

    • For the first time, Jesus acknowledges the elephant in the room…the question of His identity

      • The answers they offer reveal the confusion and mystery that surrounded Jesus’ ministry

      • But remember, Jesus already knew what was being said, so He’s not asking the disciples this question because He was curious 

      • Jesus was actually asking to find out what the disciples are thinking…which view have they accepted? 

    • They tell Jesus that some in the crowds were saying Jesus was the resurrected John the Baptist

      • We know who was principally responsible for that rumor

      • Matthew told us earlier that Herod Antipas, the man who killed John the Baptist, thought that Jesus was the resurrected John

      • But since both men were alive at the same time, this was a ridiculous conclusion

    • Others were saying that Jesus was Elijah, the prophet well known for being taken up in a chariot of fire at the end of his life

      • Jewish people knew that Malachi prophesied Elijah would return to announce the Messiah’s arrival

      • So it was natural to assume that Jesus was Elijah come to announce the Kingdom’s arrival

      • But the Bible says John the Baptist was the herald sent to announce the Messiah’s first coming

      • And Elijah’s return awaits to announce Jesus’ Second Coming, so this was also illogical

    • Then others were saying Jesus was a resurrected Jeremiah, which is even stranger 

      • The Bible never says Jeremiah will reappear, so perhaps some assumed Jesus was Jeremiah based on similarities in ministry

      • Jeremiah ministered to Judah during a time when a foreign kingdom had conquered Jerusalem and held the city

      • And like Jesus, Jeremiah spoke of a coming Kingdom for Israel 

      • But there was simply no basis for drawing such a connection

  • In fact, speculation seemed to be the order of the day, because some were saying Jesus was one of the other prophets resurrected they say

    • It seems as if any suggestion was fair game, and obviously, the people weren’t constrained by Scripture or even logic

      • Meanwhile, they ignored what Jesus actually said about Himself, as well as His miracles, especially the Messianic miracles 

      • And they ignored what John and Scripture said about Jesus fulfilling the prophecies of the Messiah

      • And when it comes to understanding what God is doing, once you set aside Scripture, all you have left is speculation

    • So obviously the crowd has many ideas for who Jesus is, but did you notice the one, obvious option that the disciples didn’t mention?

      • Surely, we know some in the crowd were saying Jesus was the Messiah

      • So why didn’t the disciples at least mention that possibility?

    • I think that’s why Jesus began by asking what the crowds were saying…it gave the disciples an easy way to suggest that Jesus was Messiah

      • And yet it seems that most of these guys either hadn’t come to that conclusion yet themselves

      • Or they were too nervous to be the first to make that suggestion

      • And in Jewish culture, fear of blasphemy was a real thing, because the penalty was death under the Law

  • But thank the Lord that He included Peter in this group, because where others feared to tread, Peter charged ahead 

    • Jesus forces the men to enter into the conversation everyone was avoiding

      • He asks them plainly who do you say that I am? It’s time to get them on the record 

      • And though the text doesn’t describe the scene in detail, here’s how I imagine it

    • Mark says they were on their way to Caesarea Philippi, so I imagine the men walking in a small group with Jesus in front

      • Looking straight ahead, Jesus asks the question and there’s a pregnant pause…no one wants to be the first to speak

      • The men start exchanging glances trying to figure out the next move…do they say the obvious and risk blaspheming? 

      • Peter senses the awkwardness and can resist filling the silence 

    • Moreover, Peter knows what the correct answer should be…inside himself the answer seems obvious and surely everyone knows it

      • In fact, he can’t understand why the others aren’t speaking up 

      • And he’s even a bit embarrassed at his own silence, so as the seconds tick by Peter finally blurts out…

    • He says, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”

      • But in Greek, Peter’s statement has a particular feeling that’s not evident in the English translation 

      • Before each noun, Peter adds the article “the” which gives his words an emphatic tone

      • Literally in Greek, Peter said you are “the” Christ, “the” Son of “the” God, “the” living One

    • All of those articles leaves us with the impression Peter was making a point to someone

      • And given what he’s saying, I don’t think he was trying to convince Jesus

      • After all, if you believe Jesus is the Christ, you don’t assume He needs your help understanding that

    • I believe Peter was making a point to his comrades and probably even to himself

      • This was the first time Peter let those words escape his mouth and he wasn’t doing it tentatively

      • He’s owning it publicly, and he wants everyone to know it

      • And I suspect he’s also making a point to the other disciples that their hesitation to speak up was a problem

  • This is one of Peter’s finer moments… it’s the moment Peter assumed the mantle of leadership among the disciples 

    • And Jesus recognized and confirmed Peter’s leadership, but first Jesus makes clear that Peter’s courage and initiative was not entirely his own

Matt. 16:17 And Jesus said to him, “Blessed are you, Simon Barjona, because flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but My Father who is in heaven.


  • Peter declared that Jesus is the Messiah, but more than that, he has declared some remarkable things

    • He has said that Jesus is the son of God, effectively introducing the concept of the plurality of the Godhead

    • Then as now, orthodox Judaism didn’t acknowledge the Trinity

    • Yet here’s a Jewish man declaring that God had a Son spiritually speaking, and Jesus was that Son

    • That was quite a leap in understanding 

  • Peter stepped forward and in one statement changed the course of Jewish belief and established a fundamental Christian theology 

    • He affirmed that Jesus was the promised Seed, the Messiah, the One sent by God to end sin and the devil’s reign of terror

    • Moreover, he said Jesus is God himself, incarnate in the flesh

    • Fully man and fully God, the Son of God, a part of the Godhead

  • Peter was the first among the disciples to reach these conclusions, and even John, who later tells us Jesus is God and was with God, didn’t speak up here

    • No, it was Peter who came to this conclusion first, and as such he deserves our admiration

    • And yet Jesus goes on to say that though Peter was first, he wasn’t operating by his own intellect or reasoning 

  • Jesus says Peter was responding to a work of God in his heart, for it was the Father in Heaven who revealed this truth to Peter

    • Before we consider the significance of this revelation, notice that Jesus’ words confirm both aspects of Peter’s confession

      • If it were true (as some critics say) that Jesus never claimed to be the Messiah, then why didn’t Jesus correct Peter here?

      • Instead, Jesus acknowledges Peter’s confession saying it was the result of divine revelation, which clearly indicates Jesus agreed 

    • Secondly, notice that Jesus says the source was His Father in Heaven, affirming Peter’s second statement that Jesus was the Son of God

      • So Jesus confirms both that He is the Messiah and He is the Son of the living God, which confirms the Trinity 

      • That God is One existing in Three Persons 

    • Notice also that Jesus uses Peter’s full name which was Simon bar Yonah 

      • Bar means “son” in Hebrew and Yonah is Jonah

      • So Peter’s full Hebrew name was Simon, son of Jonah

    • Why did Jesus start by addressing Peter so formally? Because this was an important, solemn moment…a turning point in Peter’s life

      • Peter stepped forward declaring publicly his faith in Jesus as the Messiah and his belief that Jesus was God incarnate 

      • And as he did, Peter crossed over a line from which there is no return

      • Either Peter was correct and if so, he has defined the belief that every follower of Jesus after Peter must also confess

      • Or else he was wrong, in which case Peter just committed the sin of blasphemy and should be put to death according to the Law

  • This is his defining moment, and Jesus’ response makes clear which of those options holds true here: Jesus says that Peter was blessed, not condemned

    • Moreover, Jesus says Peter’s remarkable insight was not his own, but instead was a revelation of the Father to Peter

      • What Peter just said, he couldn’t have said unless the Father in Heaven had given Peter the understanding he now possessed

      • Without that revelation, Peter would have remained as clueless as the others

    • So as we look at this moment, we need to see it with spiritual understanding, stepping back to see it from God’s vantage point

      • Scripture is telling us that in that moment as the disciples stood silently hesitating to answer Jesus’ question, the Father was at work

      • But His Spirit, He placed the knowledge of the truth in Peter’s heart, and that truth was burning inside him

      • And it was pressing to get out, to make itself known, and Peter could feel it

      • He knew the truth and he knew he had to share it, and so when Jesus asked the question Peter offered his remarkable answer

    • That, my friends, is how faith works in the heart of everyone who has ever believed in Jesus

      • The knowledge that Jesus is our Savior and that He is God incarnate must be revealed to us by the Father 

      • Without that revelation, we will never come to that understanding – no matter how often someone tells us

      • And no matter how many miracles or signs and wonders might be done in our presence

  • But on the other hand, once the Lord has placed that truth in our heart, as He did for Peter here, we can’t bear to hold it inside us

    • It’s a truth that we must declare, and once it’s taken up residence in our hearts, it’s only a matter of time before we make it public

      • And often the Lord will prompt us as He did with Peter here

      • He will move us into a moment like the one Peter experienced where the question comes our way and we know the answer

      • And more than that, we know we’re supposed to answer the question

    • That moment we call a confession of faith, and it’s the moment where faith in the heart makes itself known through a confession of the mouth

      • And as the two come together in that moment, the truth God planted in our hearts becomes a truth we ourselves accept

      • It’s the moment that a free gift of salvation placed in our heart becomes a gift received and affirmed in our minds and words

    • As Paul says:

Rom. 10:9 that if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved;
Rom. 10:10 for with the heart a person believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation.
Rom. 10:12 For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, abounding in riches for all who call on Him;
  • So at some point before this moment (or maybe in the moment), Peter received revelation from the Father to know that Jesus was Messiah

    • And then Jesus prompted Peter to confess what he knew by giving him an opportunity make that confession

    • And this happens all the time…whether through an altar call in church or a conversation with a friend over coffee

    • I remember the way the Lord brought me to a confession…

  • So this is Peter’s confession moment, and this was also the moment Peter stepped forward and became the leader among these men

    • And Jesus affirms Peter’s leadership position

Matt. 16:18 “I also say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My church; and the gates of Hades will not overpower it.
Matt. 16:19 “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; and whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven.”
  • Much has been made of Jesus’ statement, and I suspect many of you are aware of some of the controversy that surrounds it

    • For example, the Catholic Church teaches that the pope is the highest representative of Christ on earth

    • And they point to this statement as evidence that Jesus establishes the papacy through Peter

    • Their claims are revisionist history, obviously self-serving and completely unsupported by the text

  • But Protestants can run too far in the opposite direction by unfairly diminishing Peter’s importance as a leader in the early church

    • The truth lies between those two extremes, as this text makes plainly clear

    • On the one hand, in speaking to Peter Jesus says He’s going to build the church upon “this” not on “you”

    • So Jesus’ choice of words rules out believing that the church was to be built upon Peter himself or that Peter founded the papacy  

  • But on the other hand, in v.19 Jesus says plainly that Peter will have a special role in leading the early church

    • He will have “keys” to the Kingdom

    • And in some way, Peter’s leadership will connect heaven’s intentions to the events of the church on earth  

  • Jesus’ two statements are fundamentally important, a key turning point in Matthew’s Gospel

    • And if we’re going to fully appreciate what’s going on in this moment, we need to examine both carefully

    • With the time we have this morning, we will only look at the first one, and we’ll save the second for next week

  • In His first statement, Jesus begins by changing Peter’s name, that is from Simon to Peter

    • Although Matthew has been calling the apostle by the name Peter all along, this is the moment when his name was first given by Jesus

      • Prior to this moment, 2 years into Jesus’ ministry, the man’s name had been Simon Bar Yonah

      • But Jesus says from now on it’s Peter, and Matthew uses the Greek petros which means rock in the sense of small stone

      • Later when Jesus says on this “rock” He will build the church, Matthew uses a different Greek word, petras, which means cliff

      • These two words are different genders in Greek, so clearly Matthew was trying to make a contrast between the two

    • Something about what Peter did in stepping forward to confess Jesus in the way that He did would serve as an example of the church overall

      • We could say that Peter was a chip of the block, a small stone compared to a cliff

      • And the relationship is easy to see, especially if we read Peter’s own writings 

1Pet. 2:4 And coming to Him as to a living stone which has been rejected by men, but is choice and precious in the sight of God,
1Pet. 2:5 you also, as living stones, are being built up as a spiritual house for a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.
1Pet. 2:6  For this is contained in Scripture: 
1Pet. 2:7 This precious value, then, is for you who believe; but for those who disbelieve, 
1Pet. 2:8  and, 
“A STONE OF STUMBLING AND A ROCK OF OFFENSE”; for they stumble because they are disobedient to the word, and to this doom they were also appointed.
1Pet. 2:9  But you are A CHOSEN RACE, A royal PRIESTHOOD, A HOLY NATION, A PEOPLE FOR God’s OWN POSSESSION, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light;
  • I wonder if Peter was thinking back to this moment at Caesarea Philippi as he wrote his first letter to the church

    • He says to all believers you have come to a living stone, the cornerstone that the builders rejected

    • A cornerstone was the most important stone in construction, because it set the direction and stability of a building

    • If that cornerstone was structurally weak or set improperly, the entire building would list and eventually fall

  • Jesus is our cornerstone: sure, strong, unbreakable and true

    • And yet the builders, that is the Jewish nation, rejected the stone 

    • The Lord builds His kingdom on the promises He gave to Israel, and yet Israel rejected the One upon Whom the building begins

    • So that building begins with Gentiles first, with you and me

  • And Peter says that we are living stones God is using to construct a spiritual structure called the Church

    • And the process that led to Peter’s public confession is the same way the Lord will fashion us into living stones

    • The Father will reveal to us the truth of Jesus as Lord, and in a moment God appoints, the Spirit will prompt us to step forward

    • And that truth burning inside us will come out as a confession of things that only God could have taught us

  • In that moment, salvation arrives and we become part of something larger than ourselves

    • Jesus says He builds His church through this process of divine revelation and public confession

      • This is the first use of the word “church” in the New Testament and one of only two uses of the word in all the Gospels

      • Mark, Luke and John never use the word “church” at all, and it reflects how new this idea truly was

      • In Greek it’s the word ekklesia, which means the invited or called out ones

    • Jesus gives us this new term for the body He was preparing to create because none of the existing words could work

      • Since Israel rejected Jesus in Chapter 12, He wasn’t going to be building Israel – at least not for a time

      • And He isn’t creating rabbis or (God forbid) Pharisees or Sadducees 

    • We are the church, the invited ones, and the One doing the inviting is the Father Himself by the revelation of His Spirit

      • And as we respond in faith, like Peter did, we become the called out ones

      • We are called out of the world to be a child of God

      • We are called out of darkness and into light, out of condemnation and into mercy and forgiveness

      • As we follow in Peter’s footsteps, we become another brick in the wall (with apologies to Pink Floyd), another living stone in the Church

  • Jesus was telling Peter and the disciples that’s what this whole thing was about…building a Church a body of people united by a shared faith

    • As Paul said:

Eph. 4:4 There is one body and one Spirit, just as also you were called in one hope of your calling;
Eph. 4:5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism,
Eph. 4:6 one God and Father of all who is over all and through all and in all.
  • Church is about Jesus as our God and Savior…and we can’t ever forget that

    • If you ever find yourself doing “church” in some sense and you realize that it’s been a while since you talked about Jesus, stop

    • Our focus as a church can never become programs, buildings, money, growth, image, etc.

    • And here’s something that may surprise you…neither can it become about prayer, worship, study or fellowship 

  • Because those things are merely the means to a greater end…and the end is Jesus Christ

    • Every time we have conversations with an unbeliever about “church” our emphasis needs to be on Jesus and the salvation He offers

    • And every time someone enters this place, the sense they should get is that we are living stones following the cornerstone

  • If possible, we want to always and forever live in the moment Peter established by example

    • We are forever declaring by our words and actions that Jesus is THE Christ, THE Son of the THE God, THE Living One

    • That there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved (Acts 4:12)

  • Lesson #1 is that Jesus is God and we can’t ever allow our life as a body in His name to set that focus aside for the sake of lessor priorities 

    • Next week, we look at Lesson #2 in Jesus’ second comment to Peter