Gospel of Matthew Chapter Sixteen Commentary by
Pastor Ron Beckham
Verse 1: "The Pharisees and Sadducees came up, and testing Jesus, they asked Him to show them a sign from heaven." Testing the Lord is a very common practice, often heard in times of crisis, with words like, "If You do this for me, I'll do that for You." The reality is that we've all seen many signs, miracles actually, but most aren't recognized for what they are. The Pharisees and Sadducees were two notable groups of leaders, not only in religion, but also in the political arena. They hated each other, and seldom agreed on anything, and yet, here they were—together—demanding more miracles from Jesus. They KNEW that He had done many miracles and here they were, hoping to find some way to "trip up" the very God they pretended to serve. They chose unbelief instead of faith in the Lord.
Verses 2-4: "But He replied to them,'When it is evening, you say, 'It will be fair weather, for the sky is red.' 3 And in the morning, 'There will be a storm today, for the sky is red and threatening.' Do you know how to discern the appearance of the sky, but cannot discern the signs of the times? 4 An evil and adulterous generation seeks after a sign; and a sign will not be given it, except the sign of Jonah.'And He left them and went away." We know that our sun is roughly 93 million miles away from earth, but then, the ancient Egyptians knew it, too. Modern technology creates what might be called "wonders," but the Egyptians had an effective technology also, and the Israelites lived in Egypt for a long time. Those in that region were excellent at weather forecasting, as we are becoming, and Jesus makes the point that they (and we) are pretty good at understanding and manipulating outward events and materials—but as a human race, we are terrible at comprehending the things of God. The Book of Jonah reveals that Jonah was swallowed by a large sea creature prepared by the Lord, and he was in it for "three days and three nights" (Jonah 1:17). After Jonah prayed he was "vomited... onto dry land" at the direction of the Lord. The Pharisees and Sadducees were absorbed with events around them and most of all, they wanted to retain power—but they failed to understand the many Old Testament prophesies and parables pointing to Jesus. They chose unbelief.
Verses 5-8: "And the disciples came to the other side of the sea, but they had forgotten to bring any bread. 6 And Jesus said to them,'Watch out and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees.' 7 They began to discuss this among themselves, saying, 'He said that because we did not bring any bread.' 8 But Jesus, aware of this, said,'You men of little faith, why do you discuss among yourselves that you have no bread?'" It wasn't only the Pharisees and Sadducees who didn't understand, it was the disciples of Jesus, too. And it's true of us all in one way or another. And yes, through the grace of God, operative through the faith given to us, there is much we do see. But there is always more to learn because God is infinite in more ways than we understand. Notice especially here that the disciples, who didn't understand, spent their time discussing the problem with each other instead of asking the Lord. Going to Him in prayer should be our first choice.
Verses 9-10: "Do you not yet understand or remember the five loaves of the five thousand, and how many baskets full you picked up? 10 Or the seven loaves of the four thousand, and how many large baskets full you picked up?" We saw Matthew's eye-witness accounts of feeding thousands of people out of minimal resources in Chapters 14 and 15. When I was much younger, the Lord arranged it so that I became a salesperson who sold on commission. Three times during those years, the Lord nudged me in the center of my being that I would not earn any income for several months. Not unlike the disciples, I responded by trying harder, hoping I had heard it wrong, but I heard it right. No matter how hard I tried, nothing worked out, and yet in each case, somehow the utilities were paid and so was the rent. We had a little bit of food left each time, and to sum it up, I began to learn that miracles happen today. He took a little and made it enough. It's time for us to remember those times when the impossible happened and give the credit to our God who makes all things possible.
Verses 11-12: "'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.' 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.'" I was shocked in college that some of the professors who taught the Bible for a living, didn't believe the events within it really happened. Some of them, and many of the textbooks used words like "myth" to describe the miracles of Jesus. The Pharisees and Sadducees were like that—full of words but they had no faith in the Lord. Leaven is a fermenting agent that causes bread to rise, making it light and fluffy. The process was mentioned in Old Testament Scriptures such as Leviticus 23:4-8. To be fair, there is value in religious training, but many of those classes bring a dangerous leaven to unsuspecting students. He's your first choice. Study the Bible, pray, and learn from Him.
Verses 13-17: "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?' 14 And they said, 'Some say John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; but still others, Jeremiah, or one of the prophets.' 15 He said to them,'But who do you say that I am?' 16 Simon Peter answered, 'You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.' 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.'" The question Jesus asked is applicable today—who do you say He is? Some say God is dead; others insist Jesus was a "good man," counted among other good men. Or they say He was a teacher, a model, a prophet, and so on. But when you grasp, deep inside, that He is "the Christ, the Son of the living God," then you are no longer utterly deaf, but have begun to hear, like Peter, what Almighty God is revealing to all: He is the Messiah, sent to save you and me. Caesarea Philippi was a large city in the north, at Mount Hermon. Its ruins can be seen today. Our cities, our accomplishments can last for awhile and seem important, but then they are gone. God, and through Him, His people, will last forever.
Verses 18-20: "'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. 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.'" Do you believe that Jesus Christ is the Messiah, the Christ, the Anointed One sent to save us from our sins? If so, you have become like Peter, who was beginning to see what life is all about. Sometimes Peter got it right and other times he didn't... but what is most important here is this: When we see who Jesus is, and give our hearts and lives to Him like Peter did, then "the keys of the kingdom of heaven" are given to each of us. The locked gate is opened by our faith in the Lord. And He hears and answers our prayers—just like He heard Peter's prayers and responded to his need, He hears and responds to you. Note by the way that in the Greek language these verses were written in, there was a play on words in relation to the word, "rock." The nickname "Peter," given to Simon by the Lord, meant "little rock," whereas the "rock" on which God's church would be built, was the "large rock," the foundation stone. Just as Jesus was the "Rock" that followed Israel (1 Corinthians 10:4), He is the Rock who is the Foundation of the true church.
Verses 20-23: "Then He warned the disciples that they should tell no one that He was the Christ. 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 be raised up on the third day. 22 Peter took Him aside and began to rebuke Him, saying, 'God forbid it, Lord! This shall never happen to You.' 23 But He turned and said to Peter,'Get behind Me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to Me; for you are not setting your mind on God’s interests, but man’s.'" God's plans, His purposes are much higher than ours. It was a shock to His disciples that they knew something wonderful about Jesus, but here He was, forbidding them to tell anyone! He would also suffer and die—unthinkable! And here was Peter, who actually spoke the words the others were thinking. They were hoping for an outward king who would destroy the Roman Empire and restore the nation Israel. God's purposes were higher—to save the world from sin and death. It is interesting and sobering for us that a person like Peter can know the Lord and do well sometimes, but other times be bent by Satan into speaking for man's purposes instead of God's.
Verses 24-26: "Then Jesus said to His disciples,'If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me. 25 For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it. 26 For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?'" The world offers us many things, but God offers infinitely more. People are drawn to fame, money, power, health and position. What these verses are all about can be expressed by the word: "choice." God offered Himself for us, and in exchange, we can choose to give ourselves to Him. It's a contract, authenticated by the shed blood of Jesus Christ. It's obvious that we are born, live for a while, gain certain earthly advantages and then lose it all. It isn't that we are to deny ourselves everything—it's that we choose to follow the Lord's plan for our lives... And His plan is better. You may have money or you may be poor. You might marry... or not. But when the outcome is His choice for you, it leads to ultimate joy, and others will benefit from what you do.
Verses 27-28: "For the Son of Man is going to come in the glory of His Father with His angels, and will then repay every man according to his deeds. 28 Truly I say to you, there are some of those who are standing here who will not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in His kingdom.'" The direct context of these verses extends into Chapter 17, where we find "The Transfiguration" of Jesus Christ. The Lord was transfigured before them—His face "shone like the sun." Peter, an eyewitness of all this, later wrote words spoken by the Father at that time: "This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased" (2 Peter 1:16-18). Peter, along with James and John, SAW the Lord revealed in His kingdom, long before they died and went to eternity. Peter's lapse, reflected here in Verses 22-23, was answered by the Transfiguration in Chapter 17. He had "not taste(d)death" when He saw Jesus appear in His glory. And don't feel left out—through God's grace, operative through your faith in the Lord, you will see Him in His glory, much like Peter did.
Dear Lord, I choose You. I place my faith in You, Lord Jesus, and ask that Your will be done in my life. I am Yours, Lord. Please use me as You see fit. I trust in You. In Jesus Name. Amen.