Matthew 16 Bible Commentary

John Lightfoot’s Bible Commentary

(Read all of Matthew 16)
3. And in the morning, It will be foul weather today: for the sky is red and lowering. O ye hypocrites, ye can discern the face of the sky; but can ye not discern the signs of the times?

[Can ye not discern the signs of the times?] The Jews were very curious in observing the seasons of the heavens, and the temper of the air.

"In the going out of the last day of the feast of Tabernacles, all observed the rising of the smoke. If the smoke bended northward, the poor rejoiced, but the rich were troubled; because there would be much rain the following year, and the fruits would be corrupted: if it bended southward, the poor grieved, and the rich rejoiced; for then there would be fewer rains that year, and the fruit would be sound: if eastward, all rejoiced: if westward, all were troubled." The Gloss is, "They observed this the last day of the feast of Tabernacles, because the day before, the decree of their judgment concerning the rains of that year was signed, as the tradition is, In the feast of Tabernacles they judged concerning the rains."

"R. Acha said, If any wise man had been at Zippor when the first rain fell, he might foretell the moistness of the year by the very smell of the dust," &c.

But they were dim-sighted at the signs of times; that is, at those eminent signs, which plainly pointed, as with the finger and by a visible mark, that now those times that were so much foretold and expected, even the days of the Messias, were at hand. As if he had said, "Can ye not distinguish that the times of the Messias are come, by those signs which plainly declare it? Do ye not observe Daniel's weeks now expiring? Are ye not under a yoke, the shaking off of which ye have neither any hope at all nor expectation to do? Do ye not see how the nation is sunk into all manner of wickedness? Are not miracles done by me, such as were neither seen nor heard before? Do ye not consider an infinite multitude flowing in, even to a miracle, to the profession of the gospel? and that the minds of all men are raised into a present expectation of the Messias? Strange blindness, voluntary, and yet sent upon you from heaven: your sin and your punishment too! They see all things which may demonstrate and declare a Messias, but they will not see."

6. Then Jesus said unto them, Take heed and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and of the Sadducees.

[Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees, &c.] There were two things, especially, which seem to have driven the disciples into a mistaken interpretation of these words, so that they understood them of leaven properly so called.

I. That they had more seldom heard leaven used for doctrine. The metaphorical use of it, indeed, was frequent among them in an ill sense, namely, for evil affections, and the naughtiness of the heart; but the use of it was more rare, if any at all, for evil doctrine.

Thus one prays: "Lord of ages, it is revealed and known before thy face that we would do thy will; but do thou subdue that which hinders: namely, the leaven which is in the lump, and the tyranny of [heathen] kingdoms." Where the Gloss is thus; "The 'leaven which is in the lump,' are evil affections, which leavens us in our hearts."

Cyrus was leavened, that is, grew worse. Sometimes it is used in a better sense; "The Rabbins say, Blessed is that judge who leaveneth his judgment." But this is not to be understood concerning doctrine, but concerning deliberation in judgment.

II. Because very exact care was taken by the Pharisaical canons, what leaven was to be used and what not; disputations occur here and there, whether heathen leaven is to be used, and whether Cuthite leaven, &c. With which caution the disciples thought that Christ armed them, when he spake concerning the leaven of the Pharisees: but withal they suspected some silent reproof for not bringing bread along with them.

13. When Jesus came into the coasts of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, saying, Whom do men say that I the Son of man am?

[Whom do men say that I the Son of man am?] I. That phrase or title, the Son of man, which Christ very often gives himself, denotes not only his humanity, nor his humility (for see that passage, John 5:27, "He hath given him authority of executing judgment, because he is the Son of man"); but it bespeaks the 'seed promised to Adam, the second Adam': and it carried with it a silent confutation of a double ignorance and error among the Jews: 1. They knew not what to resolve upon concerning the original of the Messias; and how he should rise, whether he should be of the living, as we noted before, the manner of his rise being unknown to them; or whether of the dead. This phrase unties this knot and teaches openly, that he, being a seed promised to the first man, should arise and be born from the seed of the women. 2. They dreamed of the earthly victories of the Messias, and of nations to be subdued by him; but this title, The Son of man, recalls their minds to the first promise, where the victory of the promised seed is the bruising of the serpent's head, not the subduing of kingdoms by some warlike and earthly triumph.

II. When, therefore, the opinion of the Jews concerning the person of the Messias, what he should be, was uncertain and wavering, Christ asketh, not so much whether they acknowledged him the Messias, as acknowledging the Messias, what kind of person they conceived him to be. The apostles and the other disciples whom he had gathered, and were very many, acknowledged him the Messias: yea, those blind men, chapter 9:27, had confessed this also: therefore that question had been needless as to them, "Do they think me to be the Messias?" but that was needful, "What do they conceive of me, the Messias?" and to this the answer of Peter has regard, "Thou art Christ, the Son of the living God": as if he should say, "We knew well enough a good while ago that thou art the Messias: but as to the question, 'What kind of person thou art,' I say, 'Thou art the Son of the living God.'" See what we note at chapter 17:54.

Therefore the word whom asks not so much concerning the person, as concerning the quality of the person. In which sense also is the word who, in those words, 1 Samuel 17:55, not "The son of whom," but the son "of what kind of man," is this youth?

14. And they said, Some say that thou art John the Baptist: some, Elias; and others, Jeremias, or one of the prophets.

[But others, Jeremias.] The reason why they name Jeremiah only of all the prophets, we give at chapter 27:9. You observe that recourse is here made to the memory of the dead, from whom the Messias should spring, rather than from the living: among other things, perhaps, this reason might persuade them so to do, that that piety could not in those days be expected in any one living, as had shined out in those deceased persons. (One of the Babylonian Gemarists suspects that Daniel, raised from the dead, should be the Messias.) And this perhaps persuaded them further, because they thought that the kingdom of the Messias should arise after the resurrection: and they that were of this opinion might be led to think that the Messias himself was some eminent person among the saints departed, and that he rising again should bring others with him.

17. And Jesus answered and said unto him, Blessed art thou, Simon Bar-jona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven.

[Flesh and blood.] The Jewish writers use this form of speech infinite times, and by it oppose men to God.

"If they were about to lead me before a king of flesh and blood, &c.; but they are leading me before the King of kings."

"A king of flesh and blood forms his picture in a table, &c.; the Holy Blessed One, his, &c." This phrase occurs five times in that one column: "the Holy Blessed God doth not, as flesh and blood doth, &c. Flesh and blood wound with one thing and heal with another: but the Holy Blessed One wounds and heals with one and the same thing. Joseph was sold for his dreams, and he was promoted by dreams."

18. And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.

[Thou art Peter, &c.] I. There is nothing, either in the dialect of the nation, or in reason, forbids us to think that our Saviour used this very same Greek word, since such Graecizings were not unusual in that nation. But be it granted (which is asserted more without controversy) that he used the Syriac word; yet I deny that he used that very word Cepha, which he did presently after: but he pronounced it Cephas, after the Greek manner; or he spoke it Cephai, in the adjective sense, according to the Syriac formation. For how, I pray, could he be understood by the disciples, or by Peter himself, if in both places he had retained the same word Thou art a rock, and upon this rock I will build my church? It is readily answered by the Papists, that "Peter was the rock." But let them tell me why Matthew used not the same word in Greek, if our Saviour used the same word in Syriac. If he had intimated that the church should be built upon Peter, it had been plainer and more agreeable to be the vulgar idiom to have said, "Thou art Peter, and upon thee I will build my church."

II. The words concerning the rock upon which the church was to be built are evidently taken out of Isaiah, chapter 28:16; which, the New Testament being interpreter, in very many places do most plainly speak Christ. When therefore Peter, the first of all the disciples (from the very first beginning of the preaching of the gospel), had pronounced most clearly of the person of Christ, and had declared the mystery of the incarnation, and confessed the deity of Christ, the minds of the disciples are, with good reason, called back to those words of Isaiah, that they might learn to acknowledge who that stone was that was set in Sion for a foundation never to be shaken, and whence it came to pass that that foundation remained so unshaken; namely, thence, that he was not a creature, but God himself, the Son of God.

III. Thence, therefore, Peter took his surname; not that he should be argued to be that rock, but because he was so much to be employed in building a church upon a rock: whether it were that church that was to be gathered out of the Jews, of which he was the chief minister, or that of the Gentiles (concerning which the discourse here is principally of), unto which he made the first entrance by the gospel.

19. And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.

[And I will give thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven.] That is, Thou shalt first open the door of faith to the Gentiles. He had said that he would build his church to endure for ever, against which "the gates of hell should not prevail"... "and to thee, O Peter (saith he), I will give the keys of the kingdom of heaven, that thou mayest open a door for the bringing in the gospel to that church." Which was performed by Peter in that remarkable story concerning Cornelius, Acts 10. And I make no doubt that those words of Peter respect these words of Christ, Acts 15:7; A good while ago God made choice among us, that the Gentiles should hear the word of the gospel by my mouth, and believe.

[And whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth &c. And whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth, &c.] I. We believe the keys were committed to Peter alone, but the power of binding and loosing to the other apostles also, chapter 18:18.

II. It is necessary to suppose that Christ here spake according to the common people, or he could not be understood without a particular commentary, which is nowhere to be found.

III. But now to bind and loose, a very usual phrase in the Jewish schools, was spoken of things, not of persons; which is here also to be observed in the articles what and whatsoever, chapter 18.

One might produce thousands of examples out of their writings: we will only offer a double decad; the first, whence the frequent use of this word may appear; the second, whence the sense may:

1. "R. Jochanan said [to those of Tiberias], 'Why have ye brought this elder to me? Whatsoever I loose, he binds; whatsoever I bind, he looseth.'"

2. Thou shalt neither bind nor loose.

3. "Nachum, the brother of R. Illa, asked R. Jochanan concerning a certain matter. To whom he answered, Thou shalt neither bind nor loose."

4. This man binds, but the other looseth.

5. "R. Chaija said, Whatsoever I have bound to you elsewhere, I will loose to you here."

6. He asked one wise man, and he bound: Do not ask another wise man, lest perhaps he loose.

7. The mouth that bindeth is the mouth that looseth.

8. "Although of the disciples of Shammai, and those of Hillel, the one bound, and the other loosed; yet they forbade not but that these might make purifications according to the others."

9. A wise man that judgeth judgment, defileth and cleanseth [that is, he declares defiled or clean]; he looseth and bindeth. The same also is in Maimonides.

10. Whether it is lawful to go into the necessary-house with the phylacteries only to piss? Rabbena looseth, and Rabh Ada bindeth. The mystical doctor, who neither bindeth nor looseth.

The other decad shall show the phrase applied to things:

1. "In Judea they did [servile] works on the Passover-eve" (that is, on the day going before the Passover), "until noon, but in Galilee not. But that which the school of Shammai binds until the night, the school of Hillel looseth until the rising of the sun."

2. "A festival-day may teach us this, in which they loosed by the notion of a [servile] work," killing and boiling, &c., as the Gloss notes. But in which they bound by the notion of a sabbatism: that is, as the same Gloss speaks, 'The bringing in some food from without the limits of the sabbath.'

3. "They do not send letters by the hand of a heathen on the eve of a sabbath, no, nor on the fifth day of the week. Yea, the school of Shammai binds it, even on the fourth day of the week; but the school of Hillel looseth it."

4. "They do not begin a voyage in the great sea on the eve of the sabbath, no, nor on the fifth day of the week. Yea, the school of Shammai binds it, even on the fourth day of the week; but the school of Hillel looses it."

5. "To them that bathe in the hot-baths in the sabbath-day, they bind washing, and they loose sweating."

6. "Women may not look into a looking-glass on the sabbath-day, if it be fixed to a wall, Rabbi loosed it, but the wise men bound it."

7. "Concerning the moving of empty vessels [on the sabbath-day], of the filling of which there is no intention; the school of Shammai binds it, the school of Hillel looseth it."

8. "Concerning gathering wood on a feast-day scattered about a field, the school of Shammai binds it, the school of Hillel looseth it."

9. They never loosed to us a crow, nor bound to us a pigeon.

10. "Doth a seah of unclean Truma fall into a hundred seahs of clean Truma? The school of Shammai binds it, the school of Hillel looseth it." There are infinite examples of this nature.

Let a third decad also be added (that nothing may be left unsaid in this matter), giving examples of the parts of the phrase distinctly and by themselves:

1. "The things which they bound not, that they might have a hedge to the law."

2. "The scribes bound the leaven."

3. They neither punished nor bound, unless concerning the leaven itself.

4. "The wise men bound the eating of leaven from the beginning of the sixth hour," of the day of the Passover.

5. "R. Abhu saith, R. Gamaliel Ben Rabbi asked me. What if I should go into the market? and I bound it him."

1. The Sanhedrim, which looseth two things, let it not hasten to loose three.

2. "R. Jochanan saith, They necessarily loose saluting on the sabbath."

3. The wise men loose all oils, or all fat things.

4. "The school of Shammai saith, They do not steep ink, colours, and vetches" on the eve of the sabbath, "unless they be steeped before the day be ended: but the school of Hillel looseth it." Many more such like instances occur there.

5. "R. Meir loosed the mixing of wine and oil, to anoint a sick man on the sabbath."

To these may be added, if need were, the frequent (shall I say?) or infinite use of the phrases, bound and loosed, which we meet with thousands of times over. But from these allegations, the reader sees abundantly enough both the frequency and the common use of this phrase, and the sense of it also; namely, first, that it is used in doctrine, and in judgments, concerning things allowed or not allowed in the law. Secondly, That to bind is the same with to forbid, or to declare forbidden. To think that Christ, when he used the common phrase, was not understood by his hearers in the common and vulgar sense, shall I call it a matter of laughter or of madness?

To this, therefore, do these words amount: When the time was come, wherein the Mosaic law, as to some part of it, was to be abolished and left off; and as to another part of it, was to be continued, and to last for ever: he granted Peter here, and to the rest of the apostles, chapter 18:18, a power to abolish or confirm what they thought good, and as they thought good, being taught this and led by the Holy Spirit: as if he should say, "Whatsoever ye shall bind in the law of Moses, that is, forbid, it shall be forbidden, the Divine authority confirming it; and whatsoever ye shall loose, that is, permit, or shall teach, that it is permitted and lawful, shall be lawful and permitted."

Hence they bound, that is, forbade, circumcision to the believers; eating of things offered to idols, of things strangled, and of blood for a time to the Gentiles; and that which they bound on earth was confirmed in heaven. They loosed, that is, allowed purification to Paul, and to four other brethren, for the shunning of scandal, Acts 21:24: and in a word, by these words of Christ it was committed to them, the Holy Spirit directing that they should make decrees concerning religion, as to the use or rejection of Mosaic rite and judgments, and that either for a time or for ever.

Let the words be applied, by way of paraphrase, to the matter that was transacted at present with Peter: "I am about to build a Gentile church (saith Christ); and to thee, O Peter, do I give the keys of the kingdom of heaven, that thou mayest first open the door of faith to them; but if thou askest, by what rule that church is to be governed, when the Mosaic rule may seem so improper for it, thou shalt be so guided by the Holy Spirit, that whatsoever of the law of Moses thou shalt forbid them shall be forbidden; whatsoever thou grantest them shall be granted, and that under a sanction made in heaven."

Hence in that instant, when he should use his keys, that is, when he was now ready to open the gate of the gospel to the Gentiles, Acts 10:28, he was taught from heaven, that the consorting of the Jew with the Gentile, which before had been bound, was now loosed; and the eating of any creature convenient for food was now loosed, which before had been bound; and he, in like manner, looses both these.

Those words of our Saviour, John 20:23, "Whose sins ye remit, they are remitted to them," for the most part are forced to the same sense with these before us; when they carry quite another sense. Here the business is of doctrine only, not of persons; there of persons, not of doctrine: here of things lawful or unlawful in religion to be determined by the apostles; there of persons obstinate or not obstinate, to be punished by them, or not to be punished.

As to doctrine, the apostles were doubly instructed: 1. So long sitting at the feet of their Master, they had imbibed the evangelical doctrine. 2. The Holy Spirit directing them, they were to determine concerning the legal doctrine and practice; being completely instructed and enabled in both by the Holy Spirit descending upon them. As to their persons, they were endowed with a peculiar gift, so that the same Spirit directing them, if they would retain and punish the sins of any, a power was delivered into their hands of delivering to Satan, of punishing with diseases, plagues, yea, death itself; which Peter did to Ananias and Sapphira; Paul to Elymas, Hymeneus, and Philetus, &c.