James Gray - Concise Bible Commentary
The Pharisees also with the Sadducees came, and tempting desired him that he would shew them a sign from heaven.Matthew 16:1-17:23
FIRST STATEMENT OF HIS DEATH
In the first of these chapters there are several revelations, from one of which we take the title of the lesson.
We need not dwell on the first section (Matthew 16:1-4), in which Jesus once more rebukes the Pharisees and Sadducees. Nor need we dwell on the second section which is self-explanatory (Matthew 16:5-12). But at the third (Matthew 16:13-16) we reach something of much importance. Of course, Jesus knew what men said of Him, but the question of Matthew 16:13 was to lead up to the confession of Peter, which in the outcome became His own formal claim to the Messiahship, the first He had made. The answer of Matthew 16:14 shows that the people knew Him not, as it is today, at the drawing to a close of the Christian age (compare 2 Peter 2-3). In the face of this, Peter’s confession is wonderful, including “all upon which personal faith in the Son of God rests.”
But it is wonderful also in that it is a supernatural revelation to Peter (Matthew 16:17-20). The time is now ripe for Jesus to reveal that great fact, the mystery of His church, which had been hid from former ages. There is in the Greek of Matthew 16:18 a play upon the words “Peter” and “rock.” The first is petros, which means “a little rock,” a piece of a large rock. The second is petra, which means “rock.” Christ does not mean to build His church on Peter, but on the confession of Himself as “the Christ, the Son of the Living God.” Christ is the rock. Peter is careful to tell us this (1 Peter 2:4-9). The word for church, ecclesia, is found here for the first time, and means an assembly of called-out ones. Israel was called out of Egypt and assembled in the wilderness (Acts 7:38), and the town meeting at Ephesus was an assembly, an ecclesia (Acts 19:39). Note the future tense, “I will build my church.” There was no church before, nor did it subsequently come into existence till the day of Pentecost. Nor did Peter receive “the keys” of the church, but of the “Kingdom of the heavens” (Matthew 16:19), which is “the sphere of Christian profession,’’ or Christendom. A key is a badge of authority, and whatever it meant for Peter, it meant for all the apostles as is seen by comparing the whole verse with Matthew 18:18, where the thought is repeated and applied to all. Peter never assumed any special authority (see Acts 15:7-19; Galatians 2:11-15; 1 Peter 1:1; 1 Peter 5:1). Just what is meant by the authority here conferred is not clear. Some think it was that exercised by Peter in opening the door of the gospel to the Jews on the day of Pentecost, and to the Gentiles in the house of Cornelius (Acts 2:38-42; Acts 10:34-46). Others think it is a general authority constituted in the great commission (Matthew 28:12). At all events, it was not what Rome thinks it is, for the eternal destiny of souls is held in the power of Christ alone (Revelation 1:18).
The first revelation of His death following is hardly second in importance to the preceding revelation of His church, except that it has been anticipated; but the outcome of it in the case of the disciples is of the deepest instruction (Matthew 16:21-27). The time had not come earlier for this revelation, and now that it had come how poorly prepared were the disciples to receive it (Matthew 16:22-23)! Peter’s rebuke is explained by his expectation that the earthly Kingdom would be immediately set up, and his disappointment in losing the worldly advantages which would be his at that time. His temptation of Christ was not different in essence from that of Satan in the wilderness, who would have Christ take the Kingdom other than by the Cross (Matthew 16:23). This was the occasion for a discourse on the denial of self (Matthew 16:24-27).
The closing verse of the section above indicates that the expectation of the disciples will be realized at the second coming of Christ, and to strengthen their faith as to this the transfiguration follows (Matthew 16:28; Matthew 17:8). It is to the transfiguration that Matthew 16:28 refers, inasmuch as three of them standing there saw Him “coming in His Kingdom” in miniature, in that event. For an inspired corroboration of this, read 2 Peter 1:16-18. To quote the Scofield Bible:
The scene contains in miniature all the elements of the future Kingdom in manifestation: (1) the Lord, not in humiliation, but glory; (2) Moses, glorified, representing the redeemed who have passed through death into the Kingdom; (3) Elijah glorified, representing the redeemed who have entered by translation; (4) the three disciples not glorified, representing Israel in the flesh in the future Kingdom; (5) the multitude at the foot of the mountain (Matthew 17:14), representing the nations who are to be brought into the Kingdom after it is established over Israel. For the third point, read 1 Corinthians 15:50-53 and 1 Thessalonians 4:14-17; for the fourth Ezekiel 37, and for the fifth Isaiah 11:10-12 and many other places.
It remains to speak of the disciples’ question about Elijah (Matthew 17:9-13), suggested by His appearance on the mountain, and which carries us back to Malachi 3:1; Malachi 4:5-6. Here are two distinct prophecies, the first fulfilled in John the Baptist who had come “in the spirit and power of Elijah” (Luke 1:17); and the second yet to be fulfilled before the Lord returns a second time. This will be doubtless after the church is translated.
1. How many divisions have been found in this lesson?
2. To what was the confession of Peter equivalent so far as Christ was personally concerned?
3. Give in your own words the play on the words “Peter” and “rock.”
4. Have you examined 1 Peter 2:4-9?
5. What is the Greek word for church, and its meaning?
6. When did the church of Christ come into existence?
7. Have you examined the texts touching on Peter’s supposed authority?
8. What are the views about the power of the keys?
9. What explains Peter’s rebuke of Christ?
10. How is Matthew 16:28 explained?
11. How does the transfiguration show us Christ “coming in His kingdom”?
12. How would you explain Christ’s words about Elijah?