Matthew 16, Part 2
Again, we find Jesus withdrawing to be with His disciples. He knew the end would be coming - very soon. But there was still SO much to teach and to tell them. It was time for them to learn that He was building a church—an assembly of people who would be confessing Him to be the Messiah. The present passage is one of the most dramatic revelations ever made. It is also one of the most demanding questions ever asked. It is demanding because the answer given determines a person’s eternal destiny. How a person answers the questions determines where he will spend eternity, with God in heaven or apart from God in hell. And note: there is only one answer to the question that can qualify a person for heaven: “Thou are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”
Who Am I?
Who Am I?
13 Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” 14 And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” 15 He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” 16 Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” 17 And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. 18 And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. 19 I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” 20 Then he strictly charged the disciples to tell no one that he was the Christ.
Christ was in the area of Caesarea Philippi. The city had a rich religious history. It had once been the center of Baal worship with at least fourteen temples in and around the city. It was believed to have within its borders the cavern in which the Greek god of nature, Pan, was born. In the beginning of its history, the city was so identified with this god that it was named after the god, being called Panias. One of its most beautiful structures was the gleaming white marble temple built for the worship of Caesar. Herod the Great had built the temple in honor of Caesar when Caesar bestowed on him another country. But it was Herod’s son Philip who adorned the temple with the magnificence for which it was known worldwide. It was also Philip who changed the name of the city from Panias to Caesarea, Caesar’s town. He added his own name also, calling the city Caesarea Philippi.
The city proclaimed far and wide the worship of Caesar and of the gods of one’s choice, that is, the worship of all except the One true and living God. It was against this dramatic yet terrible background that Jesus asked the pointed question, “But who do you say that I am?” (emphatic Greek translation). It was also against this background of religion that Peter made his great discovery and confession: Jesus is the Christ, the real Messiah.
This gives a dramatic background for the Lord’s pointed question. He was alone with His disciples.
18 Now it happened that as he was praying alone, the disciples were with him. And he asked them, “Who do the crowds say that I am?”
Jesus asked the disciples a critical question. Whom do “men” - others - say I am? Notice one thing - under whose name are we saved? Jesus was not just curious, He literally was determining the fate of mankind, their destiny, how we are to reach them, how they react to the Gospel Message, and to a large degree the morality of society. It was a deeply rooted, deeply theological question. Notice the responses:
Some people said Jesus was John the Baptist. These people were professing Jesus to be a great spirit of righteousness, a spirit that was willing to be martyred for its faith. Herod and others thought this (Mt. 14:1–2). Upon hearing of Jesus’ marvelous works, Herod fancied that either John had been revived or else his spirit indwelt the man about whom he was hearing.
The common people saw some similarity between John and Jesus: both were doing a unique and great work for God; both were divinely chosen and gifted by God; and both proclaimed the Kingdom of God and prepared men for it. Therefore, when some people looked at Jesus and His ministry, they did not consider Him to be the Messiah, but rather the promised forerunner of the Messiah.
Some people said Jesus was Elijah. Elijah was considered to be the greatest prophet and teacher of all time and was also predicted to be the forerunner of the coming Messiah. William Barclay points out that even today the Jews expect Elijah to return before the Messiah. In the celebration of the Passover, they always leave a chair vacant for him to occupy. Elijah had also been used by God to miraculously feed a widow woman and her son. The people connected Elijah’s miracle and Jesus’ feeding of the multitude.
Some people said Jesus was Jeremiah. They were professing Jesus to be a prophet who was revealing some very important things about God and religion to men. It had always been thought that Jeremiah was going to return to earth right before the Messiah and bring with him the tabernacle, ark, and altar of incense. He was said to have taken these and hid them in Mount Nebo right before he died (found in 2 Maccabees, more historical than canonical).
Some people said Jesus was one of the prophets. They were professing Jesus to be a great prophet who had been sent for their day and time. He was thought to be one of the great prophets brought back to life or one in whom the spirit of a great prophet dwelt.
It should be noted that the same false confessions about Christ exist in every generation.
There are some people who think that Jesus was only a great man of righteousness who was martyred for His faith. Therefore, He leaves us a great example of how to live and stand up for what we believe.
There are other people who think that Jesus was only one of the great teachers and prophets of history.
There are still others who think that Jesus was only a great man who revealed some very important things to us about God and religion. Therefore, He can make a significant contribution to every man in his search for God.
There are some others who think that Jesus was just a great man and prophet sent to the people (Jews) of His day. We can learn about Him by studying His life.
3 Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon? And are not his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him.
The world is not unanimous in its opinion of Christ. There are many different opinions, yet there is only one truth. He either is or is not who He claimed to be: the Son of God. As long as the world does not hold to the truth, it shall wander around in a maze of opinions, following guess after guess and hypothesis after hypothesis. Most of the world’s opinions of Christ see Him as a good and great man. The opinions are not accurate, but they at least elevate Christ above the average man. The world’s opinions are false and inaccurate. If Christ should not be the Son of God, then He is not a good and great man. He is the worst deceiver and biggest hoax to ever arrive on the world scene. Why? Because He claimed to be the Son of God and the God of righteousness, and He built His following on the claim. If Jesus Christ is not the Son of God, then every true follower of His is living in a dream world of false hope and denying himself many of the world’s goods. He is also teaching a deceptive lie to others. If Christ should not be the Son of God, then He is not worth following. Scripture emphatically declares: Jesus Christ is the Son of God. He is who He claimed to be.
Jesus asked a second critical question, and He asked this question much more emphatically in the Greek: “But you, who do you say that I am?” The answer to this question is critical; it is all-important. It determines a person’s eternal destiny. Peter’s confession was a personal trust in Christ. The true confession declares one’s personal trust in Christ. Note Peter’s words, “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God”—a simple and yet momentous confession arising from a personal conviction. It is the confession that saves the soul and the confession that lays the foundation for the church. The very life and survival of a man’s soul and of the church as a whole rests upon this simple, yet profound conviction.
The Christ: the Messiah, the anointed One of God, The Son of God: of the same being, the same substance; One with the Father, The Son of the Living God: the source and being of life; possessing the source, energy, and power of life within Himself.
Peter probably did not understand all that was involved in Christ’s being the Son of God (the cross and resurrection had not yet taken place). But his confession was made in simple trust arising from a heart that was truly convicted that Jesus was the Christ, the Son of the living God. It is simple trust which God desires and longs for—nothing more and nothing less.
The question is personal. It is directed to every man: “Whom say ye that I am.” Every man has to answer, and his eternal destiny depends upon his answer. But his answer is critical, for it is not a confession about Christ that Christ is after. He is after a belief, a confession in His deity, a trusting of His saving grace.
Peter’s confession was revealed by God alone. Only God can convict the soul of a man and lead a man to personally trust Christ as the Son of God. Man is only flesh and blood. A person cannot convict another person to trust Christ, not convict him in regenerating power. Conviction that leads a man to trust Christ—that leads to regeneration—is the work of God’s Spirit. The natural man cannot receive the things of the Spirit of God.
14 The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.
Man is of the earth; he is earthly. Christ is of heaven and of God; He is heavenly. God is Spirit, and they who worship Him must worship Him in spirit and in truth (Jn. 4:23–24).
23 But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. 24 God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.”
Man cannot come to know Christ in a personal way through natural wisdom or study. Humanly, the fact is as clear as can be, man cannot recreate himself. If he is to be reborn, he has to be recreated by Someone other than himself. He has to be recreated by God.
3 Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” 4 Nicodemus said to him, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?” 5 Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. 6 That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.
Peter’s confession is the foundation of the church. Christ replied to Peter, “You are Peter [petros] and on this rock [petra] I will build my church.” No matter how a person interprets this passage, one thing is sure: this was a tremendous compliment to Peter. But what did Jesus mean? Probably this: the rock was Peter himself and his confession, not simply Peter and not just his confession. The rock was both, but in a very special sense.
Peter was the first person to fully grasp who Jesus really was. He was the first to confess with full understanding that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God. Therefore, he became the first man, the first rock, the foundation upon which the church and all other “living stones” were to be built. Peter was the one who launched and laid the foundation of the church. He was the early leader of the church who stood forth at Pentecost when three thousand souls were saved and at Caesarea when the door of salvation was opened to the Gentiles. Therefore, he was the rock and the foundation in that he was the first man who ever opened the doors of the church to both Jew and Gentile.
Peter’s confession assigned great responsibility to believers for the church. The steward of the house is given the keys or the responsibility for the house. The steward has the responsibility to close (bind) and to open (loose) the house. The key is the gospel, the message of the Lord Jesus Christ Himself. It is the business of the steward to proclaim and teach the Gospel. By proclaiming and teaching, he opens the door; by not proclaiming and not teaching, he shuts the door. Peter claimed no power or authority beyond preaching the gospel and opening the door to unbelievers (Ac. 15:7–11). His epistles say nothing whatsoever about man’s acting in God’s behalf and determining who will and who will not enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Only God will determine who lives and who does not live in His presence.
Peter’s confession must be understood before being shared with others. There were several reasons the disciples were forbidden to share that Jesus was the Son of God. They still needed more preparation. They did not yet know the full gospel. The death and resurrection of Jesus, the very core of the gospel, had not yet taken place. The disciples needed the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit if the message was to be effective, and the Spirit had not yet come. Pentecost had not yet taken place. The people misunderstood the prophecies of the Messiah. If the disciples began preaching with force, the people might revolt against the Roman conquerors.
I want everyone hearing this to listen closely. The message of Jesus has not changed today. He is still asking us whom do you say I am? And we must make that conscious, educated decision on who He is to us. You see, it is up to US to be the church today. We know Christ is the corner stone, we know great apostles who set the foundation, we know great preachers who have built the walls and the roof. But it is the members who are called to join together in fellowship and in worship by God. By choosing to not be in church, is to tell Jesus, we are not interested in who you are. And…you will have to explain that to Him one day. So, proclaim Him now…or be prepared to explain yourself in heaven.
Leadership Ministries Worldwide. 1996. Matthew: Chapters 16:13–28:20. Vol. II. The Preacher’s Outline & Sermon Bible. Chattanooga, TN: Leadership Ministries Worldwide.