Gaebelein's Annotated Bible
The Pharisees also with the Sadducees came, and tempting desired him that he would shew them a sign from heaven.4. The Great Announcements of the Rejected King Concerning Himself.
1. Pharisees and Sadducees Asking a Sign. (Matthew 16:1-4.) 2. Instructions Concerning the Leaven. (Matthew 16:5-12.) 3. Peter's Confession. (Matthew 16:13-16.) 4. The Future Building of the Church Announced. (Matthew 16:17-20.) 5. The Announcement of His Death and Resurrection. (Matthew 16:21.) 6. Peter's Rebuke and the Lord's Answer. (Matthew 16:22-23.) 7. The Path of the Disciple. (Matthew 16:24-26.) 8. His Second Coming Announced. (Matthew 16:27-28.)
2. Instructions Concerning the Leaven. (Matthew 16:5-12.)
3. Peter's Confession. (Matthew 16:13-16.)
4. The Future Building of the Church Announced. (Matthew 16:17-20.)
5. The Announcement of His Death and Resurrection. (Matthew 16:21.)
6. Peter's Rebuke and the Lord's Answer. (Matthew 16:22-23.)
7. The Path of the Disciple. (Matthew 16:24-26.)
8. His Second Coming Announced. (Matthew 16:27-28.)
After the wonderful manifestation of Jehovah among His people, in the healing of the great multitudes and the feeding of the four thousand men, besides women and children, the Pharisees appear again upon the scene, and this time with the Sadducees to tempt Him.
“And the Pharisees and Sadducees came and asked Him, tempting Him, to shew them a sign out of heaven” (Matthew 16:1). The Pharisees were the strictest sect among the Jews. They were the religious class, the Ritualists who not alone held to the letter of the law, but who enforced the traditional teachings. They were hypocrites, and fully exposed as such by our Lord in the previous chapter. There He uncovered the hypocrisies and the wickedness of their hearts. Once before the Pharisees and the scribes had come to Him with their subtle cunning and asked to see a sign from Him (Matthew 12:38). The scribes were in fullest sympathy with the Pharisees, being as religious and ritualistic as they were. These scribes had the care of the written law and studied it. They made the transcripts, expounded the law, explained difficulties, kept the records and were also called lawyers.
The Sadducees were the very opposite from the Pharisees and the scribes. The Pharisees hated the Sadducees, and the Sadducees were the sworn enemies of the Pharisees. Sadduceeism was the reaction of Phariseeism. It was a reform movement, and as such (like all reform) a big failure. The Sadducees were Freethinkers, Rationalists. They denied the supernatural. Up to this chapter they are mentioned only once before. In the third chapter we read that the Pharisees and the Sadducees came to the Baptism of John. We can well imagine how the Pharisee, when he saw a Sadducee on the road out to the wilderness, would gather his long, flowing robe around himself for fear that the hem of his garment would become defiled by brushing up against that unrighteous Sadducee, while the Sadducee had nothing but looks of scorn and hatred for his brother. John greeted them with the title which belongs to them both, “Offspring of vipers!”
Now, here in the beginning of the sixteenth chapter, this event happens, the Pharisees and Sadducees agree together to tempt the Lord. Both make a common cause in opposing the Lord. Most likely they came together in Conference. Well could they meet together, though outwardly separated, yet inwardly possessed by the same satanic hatred against Him, whose words had so completely unmasked Phariseeism and whose deeds and mighty miracles had so perfectly exposed the fallacy of Sadduceeism. While they could not agree in doctrine and practice in one thing they could agree and were perfectly harmonious, and this was, the hatred and rejection of the Lord Jesus Christ. And, as before indicated in our exposition of this Gospel, these Pharisees and Sadducees, these sects among the professing earthly people of God in the past, are perfectly reproduced in the professing sphere of Christendom. The modern “Christian” Phariseeism is the religious, ritualistic part of Christendom, having a name to live but being dead, the form of godliness, but denying its power. Sadduceeism in its “Christian” aspect is the liberal current so strong in our day, the new theology which puts supernaturalism out of the way, the higher critics who deny the inspiration of the Bible, beginning with the denial of the written Word and rapidly ending with the denial of the living Word. And these two great parts of Christendom, modern Phariseeism and Sadduceeism are opposing the Person and the Work of the Lord Jesus Christ. The day is not far off when there will be a great union of Christendom, a union which will take in the most ritualistic and the most liberal, a union which will also include the reform Jew and which will aim at a universal religion founded upon that anti-Christian doctrine of “a Fatherhood of God and Brotherhood of men.” All this is seen approaching by the modern drift of things throughout Christendom. This union to come will be upon the ground of opposing the Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, and the atonement He made on the Cross. That coming union will be “the devil’s millennium.” When the Lord Jesus Christ comes the second time He will find that monstrosity fully developed in the earth.
And thus they came asking a sign out of Heaven. Before it was only “asking a sign of Him.” But now it was to be a sign out of Heaven. Perhaps the Sadducees had asked this and the Pharisees were well satisfied. He had done many signs among them and He Himself, God manifested in the flesh, was the Sign, and now they desire a sign. Would they have believed if He had given them a sign? Supposing He had with His omnipotent power opened the Heavens and shown out of Heaven with the rays of glory; what would have been the effect upon their unbelieving hearts? Would they have bowed in worship before Him? We believe not. The Sadducees, with a sneer, would have explained it as a phenomenon of nature. They do it so now. During a visit to California a brother told us how the leading preacher of a certain city, a “Congregationalist,” had told his hearers that it was a stroke of lightning which fell upon the sacrifice of Elijah on Mt. Carmel. And the Pharisees would have only blasphemed the more. They would have repeated their previous blasphemy in saying that the sign was given through Beelzebub’s power. Indeed, the ritualistic, Jewish fanatic believes to this day that our Lord did His miracles through the mysterious and unlawful use of the Holy Name. A sign out of Heaven! Infidelity still demands it occasionally through its disciples. “If some one came back from the ‘other world’ we would believe,” persons have often told us. But would they believe? “If they hear not Moses and the prophets, not even if one rise from the dead will they be persuaded” (Luke 16:31). That awful delusion “Spiritualism” with its satanic abominations has for a bait that ridiculous assertion, “the evidence of a future life, the demonstration and sign of a hereafter,” and many have been ensnared by these demon doctrines. No signs any more; the Sign of all signs has come, Christ Himself. But a sign will yet come, the sign of the Son of Man followed by the Manifestation of Himself out of Heaven. Of this we shall hear more in the closing verses of this chapter.
“But He answering said to them, When evening is come, ye say, Fine weather, for the sky is red; and in the morning, A storm today, for the sky is red and lowering; ye know how to discern the face of the sky, but ye cannot the signs of the times. A wicked and adulterous generation seeks after a sign, and a sign shall not be given to it, save the sign of Jonas. And He left them and went away” (Matthew 16:2-4).
They understood the signs of nature, the warnings of the coming storm and the harbingers of a beautiful day. The Jews in general closely observed the seasons and signs in nature. (“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 there would be fewer rains that year, and the fruit would be sound; if eastward, all rejoiced; if westward, all were troubled.” From Talmud, Bal. Ioma. -- Horae Hebraeicae.) All the changes in nature they observed, but the signs of the times they did not discern. They were blinded to these. If their eyes had been open they would surely have known that a great change of seasons in another realm than nature had come. They could have seen the evidences of a fast approaching judgment upon the apostate nation and likewise the blessed evidences of the visitation from on High, by the Presence of the Lord, which had taken place.
And is professing Christendom less blind? Alas; almost everything is discerned and studied, the records of the past, the history of Christendom, everything else except the signs of the times. This strange, unscriptural optimism, by which Christendom closes wilfully the eyes, so as not to see the signs of an approaching crisis, this false cry of “Peace and Safety,” is indeed blindness as great, perhaps greater, than the blindness of those who asked a sign of the Lord.
But thanks be to God, not all are blinded, but many do discern the signs of the times and know “the morning cometh, but also the night.”
They were “a wicked and adulterous generation;” this solved the whole problem why they could not discern the signs of the times. The sign of the Prophet Jonas was to be the only sign they were to receive and that refers us to the death and resurrection of our Lord.
“He left them and departed.” Significant words as well as a symbolical action once more.
“And when His disciples were come to the other side, they had forgotten to take bread. And Jesus said to them, See and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees. And they reasoned among themselves, saying, Because we have taken no bread. And Jesus knowing said, Why reason ye among yourselves, O ye of little faith, because ye have taken no bread? Do ye not yet understand nor remember the five loaves of the five thousand, and how many hand baskets ye took up? nor the seven loaves of the four thousand, and how many baskets ye took up? How do ye not understand that it was not concerning bread I said to you, Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees? Then they comprehended that He did not speak to them to beware of the leaven of bread but of the doctrine of the Pharisees and Sadducees” (Matthew 16:5-12). Here the slowness of heart and the unbelief of the disciples stands exposed. The Lord turns to His own, right after He had turned His back upon these enemies, and He warns now that even His disciples, believers, are to beware of the terrible leaven of Ritualism and Rationalism. How significant that after He left the offspring of vipers and before He unfolds the truths concerning the church which was to be built, He warns to beware of the leaven and its pernicious work and effect. At no time perhaps is this warning to be heeded so much as in the times we live.
But they understood Him not. They thought of the bread which perishes and even then unbelief was mixed with it. Instead of being occupied with Christ Himself and spiritual things they minded earthly things and so He had to tell them in plain words that He did not speak of the leaven of bread, but of that which leaven typifies, the doctrine of the Pharisees and Sadducees.
What follows now after the warning words of our Lord is one of the most important sections of this Gospel. Around the contents of the second half of the sixteenth chapter cluster indeed the most vital and solemn doctrines. We approach, therefore, the exposition of this part with much prayer, that His Word may be made very plain to every reader and all may learn the lessons which are put before us.
We find the Lord and His disciples in Caesarea-Philippi, and there He asks His disciples what men say concerning Himself. After the disciples had answered He turns to them with the same question and Simon Peter gives that wonderful answer upon which the Lord announces the fact of the future building of His church, as well as His coming suffering, death and resurrection. Before we begin the study of these events in detail we wish to say that only in Matthew do we find the full answer to Peter’s confession and the fact brought out that the Lord is to have a church. The other Gospel records do not mention these words at all. The Holy Spirit put them here in this dispensational Gospel because there it is where they belong. He, as the writer of this Gospel, is like a goldsmith who has numerous precious stones and pearls, each a costly gem in itself, and forms them in a perfect chain. He arranges all in His divine order, in perfect beauty, to work out and show forth the perfection and worth of the Lord. And so He put the events before us into the very heart of the Gospel of the King.
“But when Jesus was come into the parts of Caesarea-Philippi, He demanded of His disciples, saying, Who do men say that I, the Son of man, am? And they said, Some, John the Baptist; and others Elias; and others, again, Jeremias, or one of the prophets” (Matthew 16:14-15).
It is significant that this takes place in Caesarea-Philippi. It is on Gentile ground, so to speak, where it happens and where on the one hand it is demonstrated once more that His own had not received Him; and on the other, He is truly confessed and His revelation concerning the church is made known.
In putting the question to His disciples, “Who do men say that I, the Son of man, am?” He knew, of course, perfectly well what men said of Him, for He knows all things. Nor does He include in this question those proud and evil Pharisees with their blasphemies, but He means the multitudes who had followed Him, the men who had listened to His words and who had seen His miracles. The answer they give Him, the echo of the different voices in Israel, proves only too well that they knew Him not. John the Baptist, Elias, Jeremias, or one of the prophets, these were the estimates of Him who is God manifested in the flesh. And is not this yet the burning and important question, “Who is He? What think ye of Christ?” It is still so, and the attacks of the enemy are ever aimed at the person of the Lord. The answer is a manifestation of the unbelief of His earthly people Israel, and this unbelief which became more and more evident indicated the setting aside of Israel. So it is likewise at the end of this Christian age. The ever increasing denial of the Deity of Christ and of His Glory, as it is going on in that which claims His name, Christendom, is the forerunner of judgment. (2Peter 2:1-22)
But now the Lord turns to His own. “He says to them, But ye, who do ye say that I am? And Simon Peter answering, said to Him, Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.” The question was addressed to the disciples, but Peter answers as the representative of the disciples, and is also the mouthpiece of the Father, whose revelation has come to his heart. But what does this confession mean and what does it all include? It includes more than the prophetic statements contained in the Old Testament Scriptures concerning the Deity of the Messiah, that He is the Mighty God, Immanuel. It is more than the expression of faith in the prophecies and the fulfilment of them in the person of Him who was standing in their midst. The confession is personal faith in the Christ, the Son of the living God, and as such He had been revealed unto Peter by the Father, and Peter, knowing Him as the eternal life, realizing Him as the one who hath life and who imparts life, gives utterance to it. The confession goes beyond the cross and the grave and shows forth Christ the Son of God in resurrection, though Peter had not the full grasp of this when he spoke. It includes all that, realized in personal faith, of which the Lord speaks of in the Gospel of John. “For even as the Father has life in Himself, so He has given to the Son also to have life in Himself,”... and that which precedes this statement in John 5:1-47, “Verily, verily I say unto you, that an hour is coming, and now is, when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God, and they that have heard shall live.” But all is, of course, in anticipation of His resurrection from the dead, as we read in the Epistle to the Romans, “marked out Son of God in power, according to the Spirit of holiness, by resurrection of the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 1:4).
And thus Peter’s confession includes all upon which personal faith in the Son of God rests. The first Epistle Peter wrote by the Spirit of God shows forth the word “living” in connection with the resurrection of Christ. There we read of “a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from among the dead,” and “the living and abiding Word of God,” and the Lord is termed “a living Stone,” while believers are “living stones.” The confession of Him by Peter, through the Father’s revelation, is then something altogether new. It denotes a new departure and is the very opposite from Israel ‘s unbelief. How it must have delighted His heart, when for the first time the full truth concerning Himself comes forth from human lips as the result of divine revelation! And now He is ready and free to give as the Son of the living God a new revelation. He is now giving a glimpse of what is going to be and He speaks of that mystery hidden in former ages, the church or assembly, which He calls “My church.”
“And Jesus answering said to him, Blessed art thou, Simon Barjona, for flesh and blood has not revealed it to thee, but my Father who is in the heavens. And I, also, I say unto thee that thou art Peter, and on this rock I will build my church (assembly), and hades’ gates shall not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:17-18).
The blessedness of Peter is announced first, a blessedness which is equally upon each sinner who believes in the Christ, the Son of the living God. “Bar Jona,” as the Lord calls Simon, means “son of a dove,” and the dove is the emblem and type of the Holy Spirit. Flesh and blood could not produce such a revelation and such faith, it was the work of the Father; and upon this He, the Son, speaks, “I also, I say unto thee...” So in the event before us we have the Father mentioned as well as the Son and the Holy Spirit.
With His own divine authority the Lord now speaks to Simon. Simon Bar Jona receives a new name. Thou art Peter. The Greek word Petros means “a stone;” and then the Lord gives the declaration of the building of His assembly upon this rock. The new revelation is concerning His church. The word “ecclesia” is found here for the first time in the Bible. It means literally “to call out,” and denotes an assembly of persons. It would be much better if the word assembly could be substituted for the word “church,” as that term is so much misused. By speaking of “my church” the Lord indicates what he is going to do with those who, like Peter, with a God-given faith, confess Him as the Son of the living God. They are to form His church, one great assembly.
This passage containing the word “church” for the first time, and the Lord intimating that it is still a thing of the future, should be sufficient in itself to clear up all the unscriptural views held and taught throughout Christendom about the “church.”
The Lord’s speaking of the church as to be built upon this rock makes it clear that there was no church in existence up to that time. It is therefore all wrong to speak, as it is done so often, of the Old Testament church. There was no such institution in Old Testament times. It is altogether unknown on the pages of the Old Testament prophetic Word. There are, of course, types which indicate that a church was to be called into existence and which we now understand after God’s hidden secret has been made known. We remember some years ago, after giving an address on the church, how a number of brethren took exception to our statement that there was no church in the Old Testament. The argument they brought was from Stephen’s address in Acts 7:1-60, where it speaks of “the church in the wilderness,” and because this referred to Israel these brethren took it for granted that Israel was the church of Christ in the wilderness. What havoc and confusion such a view produces and leads to! All the sad conditions about us in Christendom originate from the prevailing ignorance of what the church is. The miserable method of applying promises made to God’s earthly people Israel to the church, and forcing the fulfilment of them into this present age, has its starting point from the same misconception.
Now if the term “church in the wilderness” is mentioned in the Book of Acts, it simply means “a congregation, an assembly of people in the wilderness,” and such was Israel. The word “ecclesia” church is likewise used in Acts 19:32. The mob there is called “ecclesia,” but, unlike Acts 7:38, the translators used the word assembly instead of “church.”
However, the emphasis here is upon the word “my.” He is going to have an assembly of people, a church; this out-called people is for Himself. The formation of His assembly could only begin after the work of redemption had been accomplished. He had first to suffer and die, to be raised from the dead and by it become Lord and Christ, to be received up into Glory and the Holy Spirit sent down, ere the building of His assembly could begin. Therefore He says here, “I will build my church;” not I am building it now, or it has been building since Adam’s day, but “I will build.” Get this clearly settled in your mind and the fuller revelation about the church, the body and bride of Christ, her heavenly calling, heavenly relationship, heavenly hope and heavenly destiny, will soon be understood. And the gates of hades, death, cannot prevail against it because He whose is the church and who builds it has prevailed over death and has annulled him, who has the power of death, that is the devil.
This fuller revelation we do not find here. This is not the place for it. Nor do we find the full truth concerning the church revealed on the day of Pentecost. If Peter were the rock, a statement we shall follow closely, the rock upon which the church is built, we could surely expect that on that wonderful day, when the Spirit was poured out, Peter in his preaching would refer to himself and to the church. But he uses the word “church” not once in his address. When at last all is to be brought out and that mystery hidden in former ages is to be made known, the Lord does not commit these truths at all to Peter, but he chooses another instrument to whom He intrusts His secrets, Paul, the Apostle of the Gentiles. Through Paul the full revelation of the assembly, the one body, is given.
As it is so well known, Roman Catholicism founds upon the Lord’s words to Peter the assertion of Peter’s supremacy, and as an outflow from this the Papacy. Peter, according to the poor Romanist, is the stone upon which the church is built, and the infallibility of the church is claimed from the words “hades’ gate shall not prevail against it.”
What then does the Lord mean when He says, “Thou art Peter and upon this rock will I build my assembly?” He did not mean Peter or He would have said “upon thee will I build my church.” The word Peter -- petros -- means a part of a rock, that is a stone. When the Lord says upon what He is going to build His church, He no longer speaks of petros, a stone, but he uses the word petra, which means a rock, out of which the petros, the stone, is hewn. The word petra, rock, He uses for the first time in Matthew 7:24-25. The house there is built upon a petra, a rock, and cannot fall, and this rock is He Himself. “This rock” upon which the assembly is built is “Christ, the Son of the living God” as confessed by Peter.
But why this peculiar use of petros and petra -- a part of a rock and the rock? Ah, it brings out the most precious truth that Peter and every true believer in possession of eternal life, this life imparted, is associated with Him, is a part of Him, for He is the Eternal Life.
Let Peter answer from the God-breathed words of his first Epistle, “To whom (Christ) coming, a living stone, cast away indeed as worthless by men, but with God chosen, precious, yourselves also, as living stones, are built up a spiritual house, a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God by Jesus Christ” (1Peter 2:4-6). Here is the same relation of stone and stones, and Peter himself settles the question of who the stone is -- not he, but Christ -- and Peter, like every other true believer, is but a living stone built upon Himself. It would take us too far to look to the Messianic prophecy in Isaiah 28:16, the basis of Peter’s words.
But the Lord has more to say to Peter. “And I will give to thee the keys of the kingdom of the heavens; and whatsoever thou mayest bind upon the earth shall be bound in the heavens; and whatsoever thou mayest loose on the earth, shall be loosed in the heavens” (Matthew 16:19).
These words have been very grossly misapplied and the most abominable doctrines have been built upon it. It is indeed strange that but few Christian believers are clear about their meaning. From these words to Peter the very ridiculous, Christ and the Gospel dishonoring picture is drawn, which represents Peter with keys in his hands guarding the entrance of heaven, and that it is left to him, who shall be admitted and who rejected. The Lord did not say the keys to heaven were given to him, nor did he say that the keys to the church were in his hands and with the loosing in the earth and loosing in heaven the Lord never meant that the eternal destiny of one single soul was left in Peter’s hands.
Let us see that the keys of the Kingdom of the heavens were given to him. The Kingdom of the heavens is not heaven nor is it the church, and upon this fact rests the true meaning of the words before us. Notice the place Peter has in the church, not different from the place every believer holds in the assembly through the Grace of God, is given first and when the Lord speaks of giving him keys of the Kingdom of the heavens, He confers upon him authority for actions not in the church, but in the Kingdom of the heavens. It is therefore wrong to say that the Lord gave the keys of the church to Peter, except one assumes (which is so often done) that the church and the Kingdom are identical.
We have learned before (Matthew 13:1-58) what we have to understand by the Kingdom of the heavens in its present form. It embraces the entire sphere of Christian profession, all Christendom. Every one who confesses the name of Christ is in the Kingdom of the heavens, though that one may not at all be a true believer. This Kingdom of the heavens is in existence in the earth during the absence of the King; it is committed into the hands of men, and it is to be administered by men. Now, if the Lord tells Peter that He will give to him the keys of the Kingdom of the heavens, He puts the administration of the Kingdom into his hands. The question arises next, Did the Lord assign to Peter a special place distinct from the other disciples? Are the keys peculiar to Peter and only to Peter? Was Peter to have these keys exclusively? These are important questions.
It is easily proven that the Lord did not mean to single out Peter and give to him a work distinct from the other disciples, nor did he give him a peculiar place or one of supremacy.
The Lord adds immediately after the declaration that He will give to him the keys of the Kingdom of the heavens -- “and whatsoever thou mayest bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, etc.” Now, if we turn to the eighteenth chapter of this Gospel (Matthew 16:18) we find that the Lord repeats this very commission and He addresses it no longer to Peter but to the whole company of disciples. Peter must be looked upon in the whole passage as the representative of the disciples and as such of all true believers. If the Lord calls him “a stone,” He certainly did not mean him alone, but every one who believes is a living stone, and so when He speaks of the keys and the binding and loosing He commits this authority not upon Peter exclusively, but upon every disciple, and as true believers form His assembly, upon the assembly as such.
It is generally taught that Peter used the keys on the day of Pentecost, and when he preached to Cornelius and his household (Acts 10:1-48). It is assumed that the Lord gave this commission to him exclusively and that the words of the Lord were fulfilled at these occasions. However, this cannot be proven from the Scriptures, nor does Peter refer to any special authority in preaching on the day of Pentecost or in the house of Cornelius. (After all that Rome and ritualism and even more evangelical systems have found in these keys it may be hard to credit such a view as this; and with many it has been customary to point to Peter’s eminent place on the day of Pentecost in opening the kingdom to the Jews, as afterwards in the person of Cornelius to the Gentiles. But an eminent place may be fully allowed him in this way, while yet we deny him an exclusive place; and, in fact, we cannot exclude others on the day of Pentecost; nor even at Caesarea allow that this was the sole use of the key in relation to the Gentiles, any more than the use of another key than that which before had opened the kingdom to the Jews. One act did surely not exhaust the service of the key, nor to open the door twice require two keys. Can it be thought that the door once, opened simply remained open, and needed no more opening? On the contrary, I believe it can be conclusively shown that the administration of the kingdom, which these keys stand for, is not yet over, is not at all come to an end in one initial authoritative act. Men still receive and are received in; and if the power of the keys speaks of admission into the kingdom, and the kingdom be the sphere of discipleship, then the key is in fact but authority to disciple. -- Numerical Bible.)
But what are the keys? The answer is, Knowledge (teaching and preaching) and Baptizing. “Go ye therefore and teach (disciple) all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost” (Matthew 28:19). These are the doors of entering into the professing sphere of Christendom, that is the Kingdom of the heavens. These keys are still used. The binding and loosing refers only to discipline on the earth. It has nothing whatever to do with remission of sins or eternal salvation. We pass this over at present, but shall enter into it more fully when we reach the eighteenth chapter, where we find these words in connection with the statement, “where two or three are gathered together unto My Name, there am I in the midst of them.”
“Then He enjoined on His disciples that they should say to no man that He was the Christ” (Matthew 16:20). As the promised Messiah His people had rejected Him; He is now to go on towards Jerusalem to be delivered up and then raised from the dead to be announced as Lord and Christ. Therefore He enjoined His disciples not to publish Him as the Christ.
And now after the Lord had made known for the first time, upon Peter’s confession, the future building of His assembly, He speaks likewise for the first time in this Gospel of His rejection, death and resurrection. “From that time Jesus began to shew to His disciples that He must go away to Jerusalem, and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and the third day be raised” (Matthew 16:21).
In the beginning of this chapter the fact was brought out that Israel had no heart for Him and His own knew Him not nor would they receive Him. What they would do to Him He now reveals. It was more than mere rejection of His Person and His words. He would have to suffer many things from the hands of the leaders of the nation and be killed; after death His resurrection. And when this solemn announcement came from His blessed lips He knew the full meaning of what was included in “the suffering of many things and be killed.” He knew before He entered into the world what work He was to do. “Wherefore coming into the world He says, Sacrifice and offering thou willest not; but thou hast prepared me a body. Thou tookest no pleasure in burnt offerings and sacrifices for sin. Then I said, Lo, I come, in the roll of the book it is written of me to do, O God, thy will” (Hebrews 10:5-7). He knew the suffering, for His own Spirit was in the prophets of old, testifying before of the sufferings which belong to Christ (1Peter 1:11). He began then to speak of these sufferings to His disciples, but He alone knew what it all meant. He had entered into the world for this very purpose to give His life and as the Lamb of God to take away the sin of the world. We must also lay emphasis upon the words “from that time began Jesus.” The building of His assembly and His suffering, death and resurrection are closely connected. The beginning of the assembly, the building of the same, could only be possible after the redemptive work of the Lord Jesus Christ was finished. We read in Genesis 2:22 how the helpmeet of the first Adam was made. She was taken from Adam’s side while he slept. She was built out of his side. It is that well known and blessed type of the last Adam and His assembly, Christ and the church.
No sooner had the last word of the announcement of His passion fallen from the lips of the Lord than the enemy is manifested, attempting to keep Him from going to the cross. It is Peter who interrupts Him. “And Peter taking Him began to rebuke Him, saying, God be favorable to thee, Lord; this shall in no wise be unto thee” (Matthew 16:22). The same Peter who had uttered that glorious confession, the revelation of the Father, becomes all at once the mouthpiece of the adversary. He had not been asked by the Lord what he thought of His statement; he speaks in the impulsiveness of the flesh, as a natural man. Perhaps the conception of Messiah’s kingdom, His glory as an earthly King in which He as a Jew with his fellow disciples so strongly believed, was in part responsible for this hasty word, and explains why he became so readily an instrument of Satan. May be the words addressed to Peter by the Lord, the giving of a new name and the commission, lifted up Peter and gave him a spiritual pride, which brought on his hasty action. The way he acts seems to indicate this. He acts in an astonishing forwardness. He takes his Lord aside and then began to rebuke Him. The Lord, who rebuked the winds and the sea, rebuked by His creature! What ignorance of the person of the Lord and what failure this action of Peter reveals. And what does he say to the Lord? He desires that God should be favorable unto Him by keeping Him from such a fate. But only through His sacrificial death could God’s favor flow forth to lost men, and so Peter gives expression to the very endeavor of Satan, who would have kept the Lord Jesus Christ from going up to Jerusalem to die on that cross of shame.
And now turning round to Peter, the Lord speaks: “Get away behind Me, Satan; thou art an offence to Me, for thy mind is not on the things that are of God, but on the things that are of men” (Matthew 16:23). The Lord recognizes the enemy behind Peter’s words and He addresses that unseen one in almost the identical words He had used upon yonder mountain, from which Satan had showed Him the kingdoms of the world, offering the same to Him. We learned from the fourth chapter in the Gospel, from the temptations of our Lord by Satan, what the aim of the enemy was with every one of these temptations. He attempted to keep the Lord from going that path of humiliation, of obedience unto death, unto the death of the cross. Satan knew all his dreadful power, the power of death, would be broken and his complete defeat wrought on the cross, and to keep Him from going there was his aim. Here is a blunt attempt of Satan through Peter to hinder the Lord in His path.
And there is still another lesson which we cannot pass by. We read in the Epistle of James concerning the tongue, “Does the fountain, out of the same opening, pour forth sweet and bitter? Can, my brethren, a fig produce olives, or a vine figs?” Alas! it may be so with any believer, as it was with Peter, going on from the sweet revelation of the Father to the bitter things of the enemy and giving expression to them; and he was not conscious of it. “Thy mind is not on the things that are of God.” What a word this, is for our consideration! As soon as the mind ceases to be occupied with the things that are of God, and we turn to the things that are of men, we are stepping on the territory of the adversary. “For the rest, brethren, whatsoever things are noble, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are amiable, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue and if any praise, think on these things” (Philippians 4:8-9).
“Then Jesus said to His disciples, If any one desires to come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whosoever shall desire to save his life shall lose it; but whosoever shall lose his life for my sake shall find it” (Matthew 16:24-25).
These words are addressed to the disciples and not to unbelievers. It is therefore not a question of salvation. We are not asked to deny self and take up the cross in order to be saved. These words tell us that the way the Lord went is the way of all His true disciples. He states in a few words all the great truths of the association of the believer with the Lord, which the Holy Spirit brings out so fully in the Epistles. We read of the same association in the Gospel of John, “Verily, verily, I say unto you, except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abides alone; but if it die, it bears much fruit. He that loves his life shall lose it, and he that hates his life in this world shall keep it to life eternal. If any one serve me, let him follow me; and where I am there also shall be my servant” (John 12:24-26). Of course there is an immeasurable difference between Him and the believer. He alone could drink the cup, and yet the path He went is our path. In the third chapter of Joshua we read of the passage of God’s people over Jordan. The ark of the covenant led the way and all the people followed. Between the ark and the people, however, was maintained the space of two thousand cubits. And yet they all followed after. It is the type for us. He has made the way and we follow Him. “For to this have ye been called; for Christ also has suffered for you, leaving you a model that ye should follow in His steps” (1Peter 2:21). But how little of the denial of self and the losing of the life is known in these days. Many are, no doubt, believers in the Lord Jesus Christ; but do they follow Him? Is His path ours, too? It is not only possible to believe in the Lord and not follow Him, but it is the most common thing we see today about us. If we are loyal to Him in a world which has rejected Him and which is unchanged, we shall share His rejection. We may not be called upon in these days to lay down our lives for His sake, but we should be willing for it, should it become again a test of following Him. Surely as we desire to follow Him and He is before us, we shall find abundant occasion to deny ourselves and take up our cross. In the degree we look upon Him, our adorable Lord, and He is the object of our affection, in that degree shall we be obedient to Him, deny self and take up the little cross. It will be a pleasure, a joy and a blessing then. As the martyrs went to the stake with singing or faced the wild animals with holy laughter and praises on their lips, so shall we praise Him for the little suffering with Him in these evil days. (“Take up his cross. These words are not to be understood as meaning that we should choose a cross. Begin only with self-denial and then the cross will come of itself. He says ‘his cross’; for He does not teach that we should bear the identical cross which He bore. Everyone’s cross has been prepared according to the measure of each one’s strength” (1Corinthians 10:13). -- Martin Luther on the Gospels.)
“For what does a man profit if he should gain the whole world and suffer the loss of his soul? or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?” (Matthew 16:26). What solemn questions these are! And who could answer them? Surely if anything is taught in them it is the immense, immeasurable value of the soul. The soul is immortal; if it were not these questions would be unreasonable.
The denial of the immortality of the soul and with it the teaching of man dying like the beast, if he dies without Christ, is one of Satan’s lies which has gained ground throughout Christendom in these last days.
The last verse of this chapter contains another revelation. “For the Son of Man is about to come in the Glory of His Father with His angels, and then He will render to each according to his doings. Verily, I say unto you, There are some of those standing here that shall not taste of death at all until they shall have seen the Son of Man coming in His Kingdom” (Matthew 16:27-28).
These words refer to His second coming, His coming in power and in glory. They have puzzled not a few readers, and all kinds of spiritual meaning have been read into them. They are, however, very clear if we read at once the first part of the seventeenth chapter, where we find six days after the Lord and three of His disciples on the Mount of Transfiguration. What the disciples beheld there was the type of His glorious second coming as Son of Man in His Kingdom. Our exposition of the next chapter will lead us deeper into this fact.
The sixteenth chapter has brought before us seven revelations:
1. The Rejection of the Lord.
2. The Confession of the Lord as the Christ the Son of the Living God.
3. The Building of His Assembly.
4. The Authority of His Assembly.
5. The Death and Resurrection of the Lord.
6. The Path of the Disciple.
7. The Return of the Lord.