Matthew 16 Bible Commentary

Jamieson, Faussett, and Brown

(Read all of Matthew 16)


For the exposition, see on Mr 8:11-21.


The time of this section--which is beyond doubt, and will presently be mentioned--is of immense importance, and throws a touching interest around the incidents which it records.

Peter's Confession, and the Benediction Pronounced upon Him. (Mt 16:13-20).

13. When Jesus came into the coasts--"the parts," that is, the territory or region. In Mark (Mr 8:27) it is "the towns" or "villages."
of Cæsarea Philippi--It lay at the foot of Mount Lebanon, near the sources of the Jordan, in the territory of Dan, and at the northeast extremity of Palestine. It was originally called Panium (from a cavern in its neighborhood dedicated to the god Pan) and Paneas. Philip, the tetrarch, the only good son of Herod the Great, in whose dominions Paneas lay, having beautified and enlarged it, changed its name to Cæsarea, in honor of the Roman emperor, and added Philippi after his own name, to distinguish it from the other Cæsarea (Ac 10:1) on the northeast coast of the Mediterranean Sea. [JOSEPHUS, Antiquities, 15.10,3; 18.2,1]. This quiet and distant retreat Jesus appears to have sought with the view of talking over with the Twelve the fruit of His past labors, and breaking to them for the first time the sad intelligence of His approaching death.
he asked his disciples--"by the way," says Mark (Mr 8:27), and "as He was alone praying," says Luke (Lu 9:18).
saying, Whom--or more grammatically, "Who"
do men say that I the Son of man am?--(or, "that the Son of man is"--the recent editors omitting here the me of Mark and Luke [Mr 8:27; Lu 9:18]; though the evidence seems pretty nearly balanced)--that is, "What are the views generally entertained of Me, the Son of man, after going up and down among them so long?" He had now closed the first great stage of His ministry, and was just entering on the last dark one. His spirit, burdened, sought relief in retirement, not only from the multitude, but even for a season from the Twelve. He retreated into "the secret place of the Most High," pouring out His soul "in supplications and prayers, with strong crying and tears" (Heb 5:7). On rejoining His disciples, and as they were pursuing their quiet journey, He asked them this question.

14. And they said, Some say that thou art John the Baptist--risen from the dead. So that Herod Antipas was not singular in his surmise (Mt 14:1, 2).
some, Elias--(Compare Mr 6:15).
and others, Jeremias--Was this theory suggested by a supposed resemblance between the "Man of Sorrows" and "the weeping prophet?"
or one of the prophets--or, as Luke (Lu 9:8) expresses it, "that one of the old prophets is risen again." In another report of the popular opinions which Mark (Mr 6:15) gives us, it is thus expressed, "That it is a prophet [or], as one of the prophets": in other words, That He was a prophetical person, resembling those of old.

15. He saith unto them, But whom--rather, "who."
say ye that I am?--He had never put this question before, but the crisis He was reaching made it fitting that He should now have it from them. We may suppose this to be one of those moments of which the prophet says, in His name, "Then I said, I have labored in vain; I have spent my strength for naught, and in vain" (Isa 49:4): Lo, these three years I come seeking fruit on this fig tree; and what is it? As the result of all, I am taken for John the Baptist, for Elias, for Jeremias, for one of the prophets. Yet some there are that have beheld My glory, the glory as of the Only-begotten of the Father, and I shall hear their voice, for it is sweet.

16. And Simon Peter answered and said, Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God--He does not say, "Scribes and Pharisees, rulers and people, are all perplexed; and shall we, unlettered fishermen, presume to decide?" But feeling the light of his Master's glory shining in his soul, he breaks forth--not in a tame, prosaic acknowledgment, "I believe that Thou art," &c.--but in the language of adoration--such as one uses in worship, "THOU ART THE CHRIST, THE SON OF THE LIVING GOD!" He first owns Him the promised Messiah (see on Mt 1:16); then he rises higher, echoing the voice from heaven--"This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased"; and in the important addition--"Son of the LIVING GOD"--he recognizes the essential and eternal life of God as in this His Son--though doubtless without that distinct perception afterwards vouchsafed.

17. And Jesus answered and said unto him, Blessed art thou--Though it is not to be doubted that Peter, in this noble testimony to Christ, only expressed the conviction of all the Twelve, yet since he alone seems to have had clear enough apprehensions to put that conviction in proper and suitable words, and courage enough to speak them out, and readiness enough to do this at the right time--so he only, of all the Twelve, seems to have met the present want, and communicated to the saddened soul of the Redeemer at the critical moment that balm which was needed to cheer and refresh it. Nor is Jesus above giving indication of the deep satisfaction which this speech yielded Him, and hastening to respond to it by a signal acknowledgment of Peter in return.
Simon-Barjona--or, "son of Jona" (Joh 1:42), or "Jonas" (Joh 21:15). This name, denoting his humble fleshly extraction, seems to have been purposely here mentioned, to contrast the more vividly with the spiritual elevation to which divine illumination had raised him.
for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee--"This is not the fruit of human teaching."
but my Father which is in heaven--In speaking of God, Jesus, it is to be observed, never calls Him, "our Father" (see on Joh 20:17), but either "your Father"--when He would encourage His timid believing ones with the assurance that He was theirs, and teach themselves to call Him so--or, as here, "My Father," to signify some peculiar action or aspect of Him as "the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ."

18. And I say also unto thee--that is, "As thou hast borne such testimony to Me, even so in return do I to thee."
That thou art Peter--At his first calling, this new name was announced to him as an honor afterwards to be conferred on him (Joh 1:43). Now he gets it, with an explanation of what it was meant to convey.
and upon this rock--As "Peter" and "Rock" are one word in the dialect familiarly spoken by our Lord--the Aramaic or Syro-Chaldaic, which was the mother tongue of the country--this exalted play upon the word can be fully seen only in languages which have one word for both. Even in the Greek it is imperfectly represented. In French, as WEBSTER and WILKINSON remark, it is perfect, Pierre--pierre.
I will build my Church--not on the man Simon-Barjona; but on him as the heavenly-taught confessor of a faith. "My Church," says our Lord, calling the Church His OWN; a magnificent expression regarding Himself, remarks BENGEL--nowhere else occurring in the Gospel.
and the gates of hell--"of Hades," or, the unseen world; meaning, the gates of Death: in other words, "It shall never perish." Some explain it of "the assaults of the powers of darkness"; but though that expresses a glorious truth, probably the former is the sense here.

19. And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven--the kingdom of God about to be set up on earth
and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven--Whatever this mean, it was soon expressly extended to all the apostles (Mt 18:18); so that the claim of supreme authority in the Church, made for Peter by the Church of Rome, and then arrogated to themselves by the popes as the legitimate successors of St. Peter, is baseless and impudent. As first in confessing Christ, Peter got this commission before the rest; and with these "keys," on the day of Pentecost, he first "opened the door of faith" to the Jews, and then, in the person of Cornelius, he was honored to do the same to the Gentiles. Hence, in the lists of the apostles, Peter is always first named. See on Mt 18:18. One thing is clear, that not in all the New Testament is there the vestige of any authority either claimed or exercised by Peter, or conceded to him, above the rest of the apostles--a thing conclusive against the Romish claims in behalf of that apostle.

20. Then charged he his disciples that they should tell no man that he was Jesus the Christ--Now that He had been so explicit, they might naturally think the time come for giving it out openly; but here they are told it had not.

Announcement of His Approaching Death and Rebuke of Peter (Mt 16:21-28).

The occasion here is evidently the same.

21. From that time forth began Jesus to show unto his disciples--that is, with an explicitness and frequency He had never observed before.
how that he must go unto Jerusalem and suffer many things--"and be rejected," (Mr 8:31; Lu 9:22).
of the elders and chief priests and scribes--not as before, merely by not receiving Him, but by formal deeds.
and be killed, and be raised again the third day--Mark (Mr 8:32) adds, that "He spake that saying openly"--"explicitly," or "without disguise."

22. Then Peter took him--aside, apart from the rest; presuming on the distinction just conferred on him; showing how unexpected and distasteful to them all was the announcement.
and began to rebuke him--affectionately, yet with a certain generous indignation, to chide Him.
saying, Be it far from thee: this shall not be unto thee--that is, "If I can help it": the same spirit that prompted him in the garden to draw the sword in His behalf (Joh 18:10).

23. But he turned, and said--in the hearing of the rest; for Mark (Mr 8:33) expressly says, "When He had turned about and looked on His disciples, He rebuked Peter"; perceiving that he had but boldly uttered what others felt, and that the check was needed by them also.
Get thee behind me, Satan--the same words as He had addressed to the Tempter (Lu 4:8); for He felt in it a satanic lure, a whisper from hell, to move Him from His purpose to suffer. So He shook off the Serpent, then coiling around Him, and "felt no harm" (Ac 28:5). How quickly has the "rock" turned to a devil! The fruit of divine teaching the Lord delighted to honor in Peter; but the mouthpiece of hell, which he had in a moment of forgetfulness become, the Lord shook off with horror.
thou art an offence--a stumbling-block.
unto me--"Thou playest the Tempter, casting a stumbling-block in My way to the Cross. Could it succeed, where wert thou? and how should the Serpent's head be bruised?"
for thou savourest not--thou thinkest not.
the things that be of God, but those that be of men--"Thou art carried away by human views of the way of setting up Messiah's kingdom, quite contrary to those of God." This was kindly said, not to take off the sharp edge of the rebuke, but to explain and justify it, as it was evident Peter knew not what was in the bosom of his rash speech.

24. Then said Jesus unto his disciples--Mark (Mr 8:34) says, "When He had called the people unto Him, with His disciples also, He said unto them"--turning the rebuke of one into a warning to all.
If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me.

25. For whosoever will save--is minded to save, or bent on saving.
his life shall lose it, and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it--(See on Mt 10:38,39). "A suffering and dying Messiah liketh you ill; but what if His servants shall meet the same fate? They may not; but who follows Me must be prepared for the worst."

26. For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul--or forfeit his own soul?
or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?--Instead of these weighty words, which we find in Mr 8:36 also, it is thus expressed in Lu 9:25: "If he gain the whole world, and lose himself, or be cast away," or better, "If he gain the whole world, and destroy or forfeit himself." How awful is the stake as here set forth! If a man makes the present world--in its various forms of riches, honors, pleasures, and such like--the object of supreme pursuit, be it that he gains the world; yet along with it he forfeits his own soul. Not that any ever did, or ever will gain the whole world--a very small portion of it, indeed, falls to the lot of the most successful of the world's votaries--but to make the extravagant concession, that by giving himself entirely up to it, a man gains the whole world; yet, setting over against this gain the forfeiture of his soul--necessarily following the surrender of his whole heart to the world--what is he profited? But, if not the whole world, yet possibly something else may be conceived as an equivalent for the soul. Well, what is it?--"Or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?" Thus, in language the weightiest, because the simplest, does our Lord shut up His hearers, and all who shall read these words to the end of the world, to the priceless value to every man of his own soul. In Mark and Luke (Mr 8:38; Lu 9:26) the following words are added: "Whosoever therefore shall be ashamed of Me and of My words [shall be ashamed of belonging to Me, and ashamed of My Gospel] in this adulterous and sinful generation" (see on Mt 12:39), "of him shall the Son of man be ashamed when He cometh in the glory of His Father, with the holy angels." He will render back to that man his own treatment, disowning him before the most august of all assemblies, and putting him to "shame and everlasting contempt" (Da 12:2). "O shame," exclaims BENGEL, "to be put to shame before God, Christ, and angels!" The sense of shame is founded on our love of reputation, which causes instinctive aversion to what is fitted to lower it, and was given us as a preservative from all that is properly shameful. To be lost to shame is to be nearly past hope. (Zep 3:5; Jer 6:15; 3:3). But when Christ and "His words" are unpopular, the same instinctive desire to stand well with others begets that temptation to be ashamed of Him which only the expulsive power of a higher affection can effectually counteract.

27. For the Son of man shall come in the glory of his Father with his angels--in the splendor of His Father's authority and with all His angelic ministers, ready to execute His pleasure.
and then he shall reward, &c.

28. Verily I say unto you, There be some standing here--"some of those standing here."
which shall not taste of death, fill they see the Son of man coming in his kingdom--or, as in Mark (Mr 9:1), "till they see the kingdom of God come with power"; or, as in Luke (Lu 9:27), more simply still, "till they see the kingdom of God." The reference, beyond doubt, is to the firm establishment and victorious progress, in the lifetime of some then present, of that new kingdom of Christ, which was destined to work the greatest of all changes on this earth, and be the grand pledge of His final coming in glory.