Pharisees and Sadducees demand a sign from heaven. Jesus warns of the leaven of the Sadducees and Pharisees. Peter confesses Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and Jesus says Peter is blessed and grants him the keys of the kingdom. He seems to have the power to bind and loose. Jesus foretells his death and resurrection and urges disciples to pick up their cross and follow him. Another discussion of the end times, too.
As I write in the introduction to every chapter:
This translation and commentary is offered for free, gratis, across the worldwide web to Christians in oppressive (persecuting) or developing countries, who cannot afford printed commentaries or Study Bibles, though everyone can use the commentary and entire website, of course.
The commentary has a practical application (GrowApp) at the end of each section, for discipleship.
The Greek terms with brief definitions can be looked up at biblehub.com. However, I hope to bring different nuances to the few words I focus on. A pronunciation guide is also offered. But I keep things nontechnical.
The translation is mine. I do not offer it in competition with the excellent published ones or because I think mine is better or necessary. I wrote it to learn what the Greek text really says. The translation tends to be literal, but complete literalism and readability are impossible, so adjustments had to be made. If you would like to see other translations, please go to biblegateway.com.
Links are provided for further study.
Religious Leaders Demand a Sign (Matt. 16:1-4)
1 Pharisees and Sadducees, tempting him, approached and requested him to show them a sign from heaven. 2 But in reply, he said to them, “When it is evening, you say, ‘Good weather, for the sky is red!’ 3 And in the early morning, ‘Today will be bad weather, for the sky is red and gloomy!’ You know how to correctly judge the appearance of the sky, but can you not correctly judge the signs of the times? 4 An evil and adulterous generation demands a sign, and no sign will be given it except the sign of Jonah.” Leaving them, he departed.
We already saw the demand for a sign from heaven in Matt. 12:38-42. I repeat here some of my comments on the earlier pericope (pronounced puh-RIH-koh-pea) or section.
You can learn about those two powerful groups, at this link:
Both the Pharisees and Sadducees were the Watchdogs of Theology and Behavior (David E. Garland, Luke: Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament [Zondervan, 2011], p. 243). The problem which Jesus had with them can be summed up in Eccl. 7:16: “Be not overly righteous.” He did not quote that verse, but to him they were much too enamored with the finer points of the law, while neglecting its spirit (Luke 11:37-52; Matt. 23:1-36). Instead, he quoted this verse from Hos. 6:6: “I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice” (see Matt. 9:13; 12:7). Overdoing righteousness, believe it or not, can damage one’s relationship with God and others.
“tempting him”: it is the verb peirazō (pronounced pay-rah-zoh), and it means, depending on the context, “to try” or “to tempt.” They wanted him to show them a sign in the sky or heaven. I struggled with either of those two words. They were tempting him to run out ahead of his calling.
I settled on “tempting” because Satan tempted Jesus to perform a sign, by jumping off the pinnacle of the temple (Matt. 4:5-7). I can almost hear Satan’s voice behind the voices of these religious leaders. He refused.
“requested”: it feels more like a demand.
“sign from heaven”: He denied their request because he did not want to broadcast his Messiahship with a magical super-sign (see v. 20, below). To put it in modern terms, he was not a trained seal at a waterpark. He does not respond to dares: “We double dare you!”
But what’s the context of the sign from heaven? It cannot be the list of these miracles, which Jesus had already been doing, and the Pharisees had seen or heard about:
One sign of the Messianic Age was the healing of diseases and broken bodies. Is. 35 describes this age. After God comes with a vengeance to rescue his people, these things will happen:
“Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped; then the lame man leap like a deer, and the tongue of the mute sing for joy” (Is. 35:5-6).
Is. 26:19 says of the Messianic Age: “But your dead will live, LORD, their bodies will rise—let those who dwell in the dust wake up and shout with joy” (Is. 26:19, NIV).
The phrase “in that day” refers to the age that the Messiah ushers in: “In that day the deaf will hear the words of the scroll and out of gloom and darkness the eyes will see” (Is. 29:18, NIV).
The Lord’s Chosen Servant will do many things. Here are some: “I am the LORD: I have called you in righteousness; I will take you by the hand and keep you; I will give you as a covenant for my people, a light for the nations, to open they eyes that are blind, to bring the prisoners from the dungeon, from the prison those who sit in darkness” (Is. 42:6-7, ESV). Is. 42:18 connects hearing and seeing with walking in God’s ways, and deafness and blindness with national judgment. As for leprosy, Jesus referred to the time when Elijah the prophet healed Namaan the Syrian of his skin disease, and the return of Elijah was a sign that the Messiah was here (Mal. 4:5-6; Luke 9:28-36).
Here are the miracles so far:
Blind healed (9:27-31)
Lame walking (9:2-8)
Lepers cleaned (8:1-4)
Deaf hearing (9:32-33)
Dead raised (9:18-26)
The poor enjoy the good news preached to them (4:17, 23; 5-7), particularly the Beatitudes which begins with the kingdom of heaven belonging to the poor in spirit.
The list is scattered in Isaiah: 35:5-6; 26:19; 29:18-19; 61:1.
Turner puts them in a list (comment on 11:4-5):
1.. Blind people see (cf. 9:27-28; 12:22; 20:30; 21:14; Is. 29:18b; 35:5a; 42:7a, 18b).
2.. Lame people walk (cf. 9:1-8; 15:30-31; 21:14; Is. 35:6a)
3.. Lepers are cleansed (cf. 8:2; 10:8)
4.. Deaf people hear (cf. 9:32-33; 12:22; 15:30-31; Is. 29:18a; 35:5b)
5.. Dead people are raised (cf. 9:18-26; 10:8; Is. 26:19
6.. Poor people hear the good news (cf. 4:14-17, 23; 5:3; Luke 4:18; Is. 61:1c)
Healing points to the Messianic Age, ushered in by the Messiah himself. The list of miracles is people-centered.
So what is a sign from heaven which the Pharisees demanded?
Here are some possibilities.
Elijah confronted the false prophets of Baal and called down fire from heaven, which consumed the drenched sacrifices (1 Kings 18:20-40). He ordered the false prophets to be put to the sword. Would he call down fire on the Romans?
Then Elijah also called down fire to consume the soldiers from king Ahaziah (2 Kings 1:1-16), exactly in the passage where the god of Ekron, Baal-Zebub, is mentioned. Jesus’s critics must have taunted him to call down fire on the pagan Romans. Would he do it? Recall his response to James and John, when they asked permission to call down fire on the Samaritans who rejected them (Luke 9:51-55). He wheeled on them and told them no. He rebuked them. Or maybe they tested him to do some other sign, like God making the shadow go backwards, as a sign to king Hezekiah (2 Kings 20:9-11; Is. 17:14-20).
Moses commanded the sky to go dark (Exod. 10:21-29) and other nine plagues. Could Jesus do that to deliver Israel from Rome or prove he was the Messiah?
Whatever the demanded signs were, he rejected their games. He would not produce a sign in the heavens or skies to dazzle the crowds. He was going to be a different kind of sign (see vv. 29-32).
Miracles of God, particularly the ones Jesus performed to usher in the kingdom of God, are purposed to help people, to set them free from natural deformities and diseases and spiritual, demonic afflictions and falsehoods with the truth—all the abnormalities of a world gone haywire, a fallen world. In Elijah’s case, the fire from heaven flashing down on the sacrifices helped the small nation of Israel to come out from under the false gods. But Jesus could foresee that the kingdom of God would not be restricted to Israel. The kingdom would go far outside its borders to all nations (Matt. 28:18-20). So there is no need to call down fire to protect an old Sinai covenant, for such terrifying displays of instant judgment is not how God works to proclaim the good news of the kingdom in the New Covenant to the entire globe.
But be careful! God is still a judge, and those living outside the New Covenant are susceptible to his judgment in the afterlife, if not in the here and now. And people in the New Covenant are vulnerable to God’s judgment, as well, beginning right now (Heb. 12:5-11; 1 Pet. 4:17).
Jesus could read their thoughts or motives and perceive what they were seeking: a contest of honor and shame. His critics were setting up the rules. “Perform this wonder in the sky, Jesus, like Moses did, and do it now, because we say so!” Uh. No.
Jesus did not perform miracles in the sky. He was interested in helping people.
Now let’s look more closely at the verbal sparring match between Jesus and these religious leaders in their cultural context.
As I noted in other chapters, first-century Israel was an honor-and-shame society. Verbal and active confrontations happened often. By active is meant actions. Jesus shamed the leaders to silence. He won. It may seem strange to us that Jesus would confront human opponents, because we are not used to doing this in our own lives, and we have heard that Jesus was meek and silent.
More relevantly, for many years now there has been a teaching going around the Body of Christ that says when Christians are challenged, they are supposed to slink away or not reply. This teaching may come from the time of Jesus’s trial when it is said he was as silent as a sheep (Acts 8:32). No. He spoke up then, as well (Matt. 26:64; Mark 14:32; Luke 23:71; John 18:19-23; 32-38; 19:11). Therefore, “silence” means submission to the will of God without resisting or fighting back. But here he replied to the religious leaders and defeated them and their inadequate theology. Get into a discussion and debate with your challengers. Stand toe to toe with them. In short, fight like Jesus!
Of course, caution is needed. The original context is a life-and-death struggle between the kingdom of God and religious traditions. Get the original context, first, before you fight someone in a verbal sparring match. This was a clash of worldviews. Don’t pick fights or be rude to your spouse or baristas or clerks in the service industry. Discuss things with him or her. But here Jesus was justified in replying sharply to these oppressive religious leaders.
Jesus simply brings up the weather. This generation knows how to read it and make sound predictions. Now what about the spiritual climate? Do they know how to recognize it? Can they see the Messiah right in front of them? No, the Pharisees and Sadducees could not because they were stuck in their old ways and old Judaism and their interpretations of the law. Plus, if Jesus could not perform a sign in the sky like Moses or Elijah did, then why did they obey what Jesus said?
“correctly”: it was inserted because it is implied in the one Greek verb.
“signs of the time”: time: the noun here is kairos (pronounced kye-ross and is used 85 times), which speaks more of a quality time than quantity. BDAG is considered by many to be the authoritative lexicon of the Greek NT, and it defines the noun as follows: (1) a point of time or period of time, time, period, frequently with the implication of being especially fit for something and without emphasis on precise chronology. (a) Generally a welcome time or difficult time … fruitful times; (b) a moment or period as especially appropriate the right, proper, favorable time … at the right time; (2) a defined period for an event, definite, fixed time (e.g. period of fasting or mourning in accord with the changes in season), in due time (Gal. 6:9); (3) a period characterized by some aspect of special crisis, time; (a) generally the present time (Rom. 13:11; 12:11); (b) One of the chief terms relating to the endtime … the time of crisis, the last times.
All of this stand in a mild contrast—not a sharp contrast—from chronos. Greek has another word for time: chronos (pronounced khro-noss), which measures one day, one week or one month after another.
Here are the signs of the Messiah, which Jesus told to John the Baptist’s disciples, while John was in prison, doubting:
2 When John heard in prison of the works of Christ and sent word through his disciples, 3 he said to Jesus: “Are you the Coming One, or should we expect someone else?” 4 In reply, Jesus said to them: Go and report to John what you hear and see: 5 the blind see again and the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised and the poor have the good news preached to them. (Matt. 11:2-5)
The Pharisees and Sadducees were not attuned to these Messianic signs because they were stuck in their old Judaism and temple worship.
This verse is nearly a verbatim repetition of 12:39. The evil and adulterous generation is like the wilderness generation of Deut. 1:35; 32:5, 20. Adultery connotes unfaithfulness to God (Is. 1:21; 57:3-9; Jer. 3:10).
The sign that the evil generation will get is the resurrection. Plenty of people were eyewitnesses to Christ’s resurrection (e.g. 1 Cor. 15:3-8). To the Athenians, Paul preached the resurrection (Acts 17:31). See Matt. 11:38-42 for more comments about the resurrection.
Some cessationists (those who believe the gifts of the Spirit in 1 Cor. 12:7-11 and other miracles have ceased after the apostolic generation, except on rare occasions by God’s sovereignty) quote these verses to support their belief that only an evil generation seeks for “signs and wonders.” Of course, they are taking the verses out of context. In this context they asked Jesus to perform a sign in the sky, just to put him on trial and tempt him to use his divine nature on his own without the will of the Father. “Prove it, Jesus! We demand a sign in the sky right now!” He said no. He is not a performing seal at a water park. Signs and wonders like the kind Jesus listed for John the Baptist are designed to help people. Yes, they confirm that the kingdom is here, but not to show off and to put on a display and performed right when misguided people demand to be entertained and awed. The people who were actually healed were desperate, without the malevolent motive to tempt him to clap his hands and work a miracle in the sky, like a magician.
GrowApp for Matt. 16:1-4
A.. Jesus tells the religious leaders that the sign is standing in front of them—himself. How can you discern Jesus in your life and not your own self-improvement?
The Yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees (Matt. 16:5-12)
5 And after the disciples went to the other side of the lake, they forgot to take the bread. 6 Jesus said to them, “Watch out for and beware of the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” 7 They discussed among themselves, saying, “We didn’t take the bread.” 8 Perceiving this, Jesus said, “Why are you discussing among yourselves, you of little faith, that you have no bread? 9 Are you no longer mindful or do you forget the five loaves for the five thousand and how many baskets which you got? 10 And the seven loaves for the four thousand and the number of baskets which you got? 11 How are you not mindful of what I told you? Beware of the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” 12 Then they understood that he did not tell them to beware of bread yeast, but of the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees.
For a discussion about why it is important not to slink away from a verbal sparring match, see the comments on v. 1.
This verse sets up the scene. No doubt Jesus saw what they forgot to do, and now he was about to find out if they could look beyond the natural world and perceive the spiritual meaning of yeast and bread.
“lake”: It is the Lake of Galilee. it is most often translated as “sea,” because of the Greek word, but the Shorter Lexicon offers the option of “lake.” And since the body of water in Galilee is a lake, I chose this term. The old traditional title, “The Sea of Galilee,” to modern readers, makes no sense when they see it on an online map; the term is inaccurate.
Also noted, the disciples did the practical things for Jesus. The twelve (and Judas’s replacement Matthias) will apply this lesson when it is their turn to lead. They will appoint seven deacons, while the twelve will devote themselves to teaching the word and prayer alone (Acts 6). Nowadays, pastors do it all: they are corporate managers and oversee many departments. But they are not following Scripture, which says to devote themselves only to Scripture and prayer. Now the teaching behind the pulpit is shallow because the pastors don’t have the time to study the Bible. No, one day of study is not enough.
“disciples”: the noun is mathētēs (pronounced mah-they-tayss). and it is used 261 times in the NT, though many of them are duplicates in the three synoptic Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke. BDAG is considered by many to be the authoritative Greek lexicon of the NT, and it says of the noun (1) “one who engages in learning through instruction from another, pupil, apprentice”; (2) “one who is rather constantly associated with someone who has a pedagogical reputation or a particular set of views, disciple, adherent.”
Jesus works with the literal word yeast or leaven, but he adds to the physical object (tiny yeast) a spiritual or metaphorical meaning. Can the disciples catch on? Blomberg points out a wordplay in Aramaic (Jesus spoke this language). “There may be an underlying Aramaic play on words in v. 12b, given the similarity between “teaching” (ʾamîrʾā) and “yeast” (hămîrʾa). (comment on 16:8-12). I don’t know Aramaic, so I will take his word for it.
They did not catch on to the nonliteral meaning. I feel for them. I wonder whether I catch on to deeper truths.
“discussing”: “reasoning” is also a valid translation. They were using their intellects that were tied down to the literal meaning of yeast. They could not transition from the physical (yeast) to the metaphorical or spiritual (doctrine or teaching).
Osborne translates: “They began discussing this among themselves.” “Began” is implied in the tense of the verb (imperfect tense). He may be right.
Jesus perceived what they were discussing. Did he perceive this by a supernatural knowledge? The Greek word is a very common verb to know, so that answer cannot be settled by that. My hunch: he overheard them.
“mindful”: it is the verb noeō (pronounced no-eh-oh), and it is the verb form of the noun noēma pronounced no-ay-mah) or thought, mind. It more formally means (1) “perceive, understand, gain an insight into”; (2) consider, take note of, think over”; (3) “think, imagine” (Eph. 3:20) (the Shorter Lexicon). So I decided to translate it as “mindful.” They were not mindful of who their Lord was and his miracle-working power and with whom he just finished dialoging in a verbal sparring match. He is now exposing their teaching.
He must have gestured or used a tone of voice in such a way that the twelve caught on. Or they simply got an insight. “Eureka! Now we catch on!”
“teaching”: it could be translated as “doctrine.” It is the Greek noun didachē (pronounced dee-dah-khay). BDAG is considered by many to be the authoritative lexicon of the Greek NT, and it defines the noun as follows: (1) “The activity of teaching, teaching, instruction”; (2) “the content of teaching, teaching.” Yes, the word is also used of Jesus’s teaching: Matt. 7:28; 22:33; Mark 1:22, 27; 4:2; 11:18; 12:38; Luke 4:32; John 7:16, 17; 18:19. And it is used of the apostolic teaching: Acts 2:42; 5:28; 13:12; 17:19; Rom. 6:17; 16:17; 1 Cor. 14:6, 26; 2 Tim. 4:2; Ti. 1:9; Heb. 6:2; 2 John 9 (twice), 10; Rev. 2:14, 15, 24.
Renewalists (Pentecostals, Charismatics, and Neo-Charismatics) need much more instruction and doctrine than they are getting. Inspirational preaching about God fulfilling their hopes and dreams is insufficient. We need to discern the signs of the times or seasons (Matt. 16:3). We live in the time or season of the worldwide web. The people are getting bombarded with strange doctrines, on youtube (and other such platforms). These youtube “teachers” know how to edit things and put in clever colors and special effects, but they have not been appointed by God. They do not know how to do even basic research. They run roughshod over basic hermeneutical (interpretational) principles. These “teachers” do not seem to realize that they will be judged more severely (Jas. 3:1) and will have to render an account of their (self-appointed) “leadership” (Heb. 13:17). If they destroy God’s temple, God will (eventually) destroy them (1 Cor. 3:17).
Further, my impression is that the main platform speakers on TV whose budgets are big enough to put them on TV every day don’t even know the basics about doctrine. They couldn’t explain the dual natures of Christ (truly God and truly man), if they were asked (I admit I’m still learning basic doctrine). Why not? They are too busy being corporate managers and even Chief Executive Officers of large churches. They are not turning over the practical side of church leadership to their elders and deacons. They do not spend hours a day—all day, every day—studying nothing but Scriptures, with good ol’ commentaries. (Maybe this one can help.) They do not spend hours a day reading up on theology and doctrine. (Maybe my website can help, a little.)
A better translation of Eph. 4:11 reads: “Apostles, prophets, evangelists, and teaching pastors,” not pastors and teachers. Do we have teaching pastors or management or corporate pastors who specialize in organizational leadership? Or do we have psychology pastors? These areas should be turned over to a team. The teaching pastors should do nothing but study Scripture and should have the bulk of the teaching time on Sunday morning and in other services.
We need to change our ways and follow Scripture, or else much of the church will spiritually diminish and be swept away by strange teachings. Yes, good ol’ fashioned theology and even a little apologetics about difficult passages is what the global Church needs. They need the basics—even on Sunday morning, delivered by teaching pastors, not corporate, inspirational pastors.
In Jesus’s day it was the doctrine of the Pharisees and Sadducees, who represented Judaism. In our day, some Christ followers are pushing old Judaism too hard and too far into the church. Other strange doctrines are circulating around the church. The best antidote is sound teaching.
“Pharisees and Sadducees”: see v. 1 for more comments. Go here to learn more about them:
GrowApp for Matt. 16:5-12
A.. In Jesus’s day yeast (bad doctrine) was old Judaism, represented by the Pharisees and Sadducees. What are some strange teachings that you hear about today? Were you tempted to get caught up in them? If so, how did God set you free?
Peter’s Declaration about Jesus (Matt. 16:13-20)
13 As Jesus was going into the region of Caesarea Philippi, he was asking his disciples, saying, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” 14 They said, “Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, others say Jeremiah or one of the prophets. 15 He said to them, “But you, who do you say that I am?” 16 In reply, Simon Peter said, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” 17 In reply, Jesus said to him, “Blessed are you, Simon, son of Jonah, because flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven has.” 18 And I also say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overpower it. 19 I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven. And whatever you have bound on earth will have been bound in heaven, and whatever you have loosed on earth will have been loosed in heaven.” 20 Then he strictly ordered the disciples that they should tell no one that he is the Christ.
Caesarea Philippi is way up north, near Mt. Hermon. It was earlier named Paneas, after the god Pan, but was renamed after Caesar and Herod Philip early in the first century. In ancient times, Baal worship was practiced there. When Peter confessed that Jesus is the Messiah, the Anointed One, the Son of the living God, he was declaring that the gods of the past and present (and future) are defeated through Christ (BTSB).
See my posts about the title Messiah and the Son of God:
No, Jesus is not asking this question because he is insecure and he wants to find out how popular he is. He’s asking this question to draw out of his disciples their knowledge of him.
“people”: it is the Greek noun anthrōpos (pronounced ahn-throw-poss), and even in the plural some interpreters say that it means only “men.” However, throughout the Greek written before and during the NT, in the plural it means people in general, including womankind (except rare cases). In the singular it can mean person, depending on the context (Matt. 4:4; 10:36; 12:11, 12; 12:43, 45; 15:11, 18). So a “person” or “people” or “men and women” (and so on) is almost always the most accurate translation, despite what more conservative translations say. So I chose “people.”
“Son of Man”: it both means the powerful, divine Son of man (Dan. 7:13-14) and the human son of man—Ezekiel himself—in the book of Ezekiel (numerous references). Jesus was and still is in heaven both divine and human.
Once again, see 4. Titles of Jesus: The Son of Man
John the Baptist and Elijah. Jesus quotes this verse from Malachi in Matt. 11:10: “This is the one of whom it has been written: ‘Look! I send my messenger before you, who prepares your road before you’” (Mal. 3:1). The common rumors speak of Messianic expectation, and the people believed in the resurrection from the dead and were expecting Elijah to return, as Malachi predicted (Mal. 4:5-6). Judaism at this time commonly believed that a former prophet would reappear, like Moses, Jeremiah, or Isaiah.
Why Jeremiah in the list? He was known as the weeping prophet, and Jesus proclaimed similar judgment over the nation.
“One of the prophets”: this means Jesus was closely linked to the age of the prophets in the OT.
Here is the real test, and Peter’s answer surpasses those of the crowds. Jesus was identified correctly. I get the impression that Peter spoke for all of the eleven. I can easily imagine that the others verbally expressed or nodded their agreement. As we just saw, Matthew’s version says that Peter added, “the Son of the living God.” This is the fullest statement in their cultural context at this time. Later revelation, after Pentecost (Acts 2), will show the church that he was equal with God, as Phil. 2:5-11 reveals. “Although he was in the form of God, he did not consider equality with God something to be grasped” (v. 6). In other words, progressive revelation is a fact of the Bible. He reveals who he is by their historical context and what their mind can grasp, little by little. John’s Gospel shows Jesus slamming home his true identity as God in the flesh, and only the few and the insightful could grasp it. His fullest revelation was for a later time, after the birth of the church at Pentecost, and John’s Gospel reflects the later times—or was written for them long after the birth.
By this proclamation of Jesus’s Sonship and Messiahship, Peter has become the example for others to follow. He is now the prototypical leaders for all leaders of all generations. They must depend on wisdom and insight from their heavenly Father. Some commentators call him a “prime minister” of the kingdom or “the representative eschatological missionary, a ‘fisher of men’ par excellence (Keener, p. 428).
Let’s get into some systematic theology:
“Son of the living God”: Jesus was the Son of the Father eternally, before creation. The Son has no beginning. He and the Father always were, together. The relationship is portrayed in this Father-Son way so we can understand who God is more clearly. Now he relates to us as his sons and daughters. On our repentance and salvation and union with Christ, we are brought into his eternal family.
Quick teaching about the Trinity in our quick tour of systematic theology. The Father in his role as the Father is superior to the Son; the Father guides the whole of creation and the plan of the ages. The Son carries out the plan, notably by being born as a man, humbling himself, taking on the form of a servant (Phil. 3:7-8). He humbled himself so deeply and thoroughly that he died a death on the cross, the instrument of the death penalty.
However, the Father and Son are equal in their essence or nature. The Father is fully God and the Son is fully God, in their essence. Phil. 2:6: Jesus did not regard equality with God as something to hold on to, but he surrendered the environment of heaven and took the form of a servant. Look at it this way: a human father and son are equal in their essence. Both have a soul and spirit. But in their roles and family relationship, the Father is over the Son.
Function or role: the Father is over the Son
In their essence or essential nature: Father and Son are equal.
And on the Trinity:
Jesus proclaims that Peter received this knowledge from the Father in heaven (Matt. 16:13-20), so the Father was breaking though in the disciples’ minds, or at least Peter’s mind.
“blessed”: it is the adjective makarios (pronounced mah-kah-ree-oss) and is used 50 times. It has an extensive meaning: “happy” or “fortunate” or “privileged” (Mounce, pp. 67-71).
Let’s look more deeply at the word.
The Old Testament was written in Hebrew, and the main word for blessing is the verb barak, used 327 times throughout the Hebrew Bible: Genesis 76 times, Deuteronomy 40 times, and Psalms 76 times. Each time it is people-related. The noun is beraka, used 71 times, and “denotes the pronouncement of good things on the recipient or the collection of good things” (Mounce, p. 70).
Any synonyms of makarios? The New Testament was written in Greek, and the verb is eulogeō (pronounced yew-loh-geh-oh, and the “g” is hard as in “get”), which is used 41 times and means to “bless, thank, or praise.” The adjective eulogētos (pronounced yew-loh-gay-toss, and the “g” is hard), which is used 8 times, means “blessed, praised.” The noun is eulogia (pronounced yew-lo-gee-ah, the “g” is hard, and we get our word eulogy from it), and is used 16 times. It means to “speak well.” It is mostly translated as “praise.” The log– stem is rich in Greek, and it can include speaking a word. So speak blessing to yourself and to others.
“flesh and blood”: this is a circumlocution (roundabout way of speaking) for human ingenuity.
“Son of Jonah”: Peter’s full name was Simon bar-Yoḥanan (Jonathan), which can come into Greek abridged as John (John 1:42) or Jonah (here). it could read “son of John,” but Jesus may be deploying another play on words. Peter is like the prophet Jonah who preached repentance to Gentile Ninevites. Peter is about to welcome Gentiles into the redeemed kingdom community (Acts 10).
Now we come to a tricky verse because churches have fought over it. They have made it overly complicated, in my ever-learning opinion.
The Aramaic word for “Peter” and “rock” was kêphā (pronounced keh-fah), and this comes into Greek as Kephas and then into English as Cephas (John 1:42; 1 Cor. 15:5; Gal. 1:18 and so on), and it can mean “(massive) rock.”
So here is the verse with the Aramaic inserted:
And I also say to you that you are Peter [kêphā], and on this rock [kêphā] I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overpower it. (v. 18).
I used Carson’s commentary for this information about Aramaic, because I don’t know that language.
Blomberg on the meaning of the keys:
[M]ore immediate parallels suggest that one should pursue the imagery of keys that close and open, lock and unlock (based on Isa 22:22) and take the binding and loosing as referring to Christians’ making entrance to God’s kingdom available or unavailable to people through their witness, preaching, and ministry. This entrance to the kingdom will include the forgiveness of sins, tying this text in closely with John 20:23, which displays a very similar structure, and also with Jesus’ use of the phrase “keys of knowledge” in Luke 11:52. (comment on 16:19-20)
That explanation seems balanced to me.
The Reformers of five hundred years ago reacted strongly against Peter being the first pope. So they and many others argued that Jesus meant that it is the confession of Peter that Jesus is the Son of the living God. Or the church shall be built on the Son of the living God, himself.
That may be, but the plain meaning says that it is on Peter that Jesus would build his church. Peter would not build it, nor would anyone else. Only Jesus would. There is no successor to Peter spelled out in this verse.
There is no way that Jesus had in mind a mimicking of this (skeletal) Roman class structure:
Emperor = Peter and later popes
Senators = Cardinals
Equites or knights = archbishops
Governors = bishops
Administrators = priests
Or some such hierarchy
Nor did Jesus intend by this one verse this (skeletal) hierarchy in the Medieval Age:
Kings and Emperors = Popes
Dukes = Cardinals
Earls and counts = archbishops
Viscounts and barons = bishops
Administrators = priests
And so on
And now the Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox Church have carried forward to this day the overly complicated interpretation of this one verse.
Instead, Jesus meant the revelation which the Father gave to Peter and which he spoke for every one of the other apostles. Jesus is simply saying that Peter will take the lead, and the others will have their prominent part. Jesus is about to rebuke Peter (v. 23). Paul rebuked Peter when Peter had unjustly withdrawn from table fellowship with the Gentiles (Gal. 2:11-14). Peter was imperfect. So we shouldn’t build a massive hierarchy on this one verse. Keep things simple and streamlined, which is the direction Jesus took.
“church”: it is the Greek noun ekklēsia (pronounced ehk-klay-see-ah). It comes from the Greek verb ekkaleō or “to call out.” It can be used of an assembly in a non-Christian context (Acts 19:39). It is the assembly or “church” in the wilderness (Acts 7:38; cf. Heb. 2:12). In Acts and the Epistles, it refers to the gathering of the people of God. It translates the Hebrew qāhāl (meeting, assembly, gathering). The Septuagint (pronounced sep-too-ah-gent) is a third-to-first-century translation of the Hebrew Bible into Greek. It often (but not always) translates qāhāl as ekklēsia. Therefore, Matthew’s use of ekklēsia is appropriate at this early time in Jesus’s ministry. The noun is not anachronistic because he meant the gathering of his people, not gigantic buildings and cathedrals, overseen by the hierarchy listed above. “A Messiah without a Messianic Community would have been unthinkable to any Jew” (Albright and Mann, quoted in Carson).
“gates of Hades”: It is a metaphor for death or the threshold of death, right before one enters it by dying. Even pagan Greek writers like Homer and the tragedians and conceptual writers and novelists used the imagery of the Gates of Hades (Keener). Here are the OT sources with the same imagery (ESV, and emphasis added):
God is speaking and rebuking Job, before he restores double portion to the suffering man:
Have the gates of death been revealed to you,
or have you seen the gates of deep darkness? (Job. 38:17)
David is praying hard for victory in his personal life:
Be gracious to me, O Lord!
See my affliction from those who hate me,
O you who lift me up from the gates of death (Ps. 9:13)
This psalm is for everyone to take to heart. Let the redeemed of the Lord say so.
17 Some were fools through their sinful ways,
and because of their iniquities suffered affliction;
18 they loathed any kind of food,
and they drew near to the gates of death. (Ps. 107:17-18)
King Hezekiah is in despair because his death seems imminent, but then he was healed. Before then, however, he wrote of his hopelessness:
9 A writing of Hezekiah king of Judah, after he had been sick and had recovered from his sickness:
10 I said, In the middle of my days
I must depart;
I am consigned to the gates of Sheol
for the rest of my years.
11 I said, I shall not see the Lord,
the Lord in the land of the living;
I shall look on man no more
among the inhabitants of the world. (Is. 38:9-11)
Therefore, Jesus, borrowing from this OT imagery, is saying that death will not conquer the kingdom of God. The kingdom is endless and undefeatable. He is about to predict his own death (vv. 21-22), and it cannot defeat him. 1 Cor. 15:26 says the last enemy to be defeated is death. “Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” (1 Cor. 15:54-55). Jesus and his kingdom shall conquer death; it will not conquer him or his kingdom.
So should preachers continue with the image that Jesus followers must plunder the gates of Hades and rescue people out of it? If these preachers mean that we must rescue people from death, and the sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law (1 Cor. 15:56), then go for it! Unredeemed people are trapped in a “living death.” Carry on the imagery in your preaching. Rescue them from it!
But if preachers mean that we go into Hades by vision or by faith and defeat Satan and his hordes of demons, then this odd interpretation takes things too far. Keep the plain thing the main thing. Don’t “out-insight” the inspired and infallible biblical authors.
Now let’s explore the term hades more generally.
“Hades”: The term is not as clear in the details as we have been taught. It is mentioned 10 times in the NT: Matt. 11:23; 16:18; Luke 10:15; 16:23; Acts 2:27, 31; Rev. 1:18; 6:8; 20:13, 14. And Matt. 11:23 // Luke 10:15 are parallels, so the number of distinct times is actually eight. And hades is not elaborated on in detail, and not even in Revelation, except for some symbolic usage. Hades will even be thrown in the lake of fire (Rev. 20:14).
In Matt. 11:23 and Luke 10:15, Jesus pronounced judgment on various towns, which will be brought down to hades. No elaboration on what hades is.
In Matt. 16:18, Jesus said the gates of hades will not prevail against the church, again without elaboration on what hades is.
Luke 16:23, the term is found in the Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus, and hades in this parable expresses the standard Jewish and Greco-Roman view of the afterlife, with only a little description, such as fire and torment. Yet many scholars believe that parables are not a firm foundation on which to build gigantic doctrines about the afterlife. One scholar reasonably concludes that this story about a rich man getting what he deserves is a Jewish religious folktale, which Jesus adopted and adapted for the purpose of telling the earthbound point that one should be kind with money.
In Acts 2:27, 31 the word is found in a quotation from the Old Testament (Ps. 16:8-11), and hades translates the Hebrew word sheol, which can mean “the grave,” “the pit” or “realm of the dead.” So the detailed description of hades is not entirely clear in those two verses.
Rev. 1:18 says Jesus has the keys to death and hades, without explaining what hades is, unless it is a synonym for death.
In Rev. 6:8, after the fourth seal was open, death rode on a horse, and hades followed him. So the terms are highly symbolic.
In Rev. 20:13-14, death and hades gave up their dead, the people were judged, and thrown into the lake of fire, and even death and hades were thrown into it.
Please read a three-part series, which have plenty of Scriptural support:
Each theory teaches punishment in the afterlife, but the debate is over the duration of punishment. It may be surprising to many traditional Christians, but the latter two theories have plenty of Scriptural support. But whichever theory you decide on, please don’t call the other theories heretical or unorthodox, particularly if you believe in eternal, conscious torment. The theory of eternal, conscious torment did not gain momentum until Augustine’s time in the fifth century. Until then, church leaders easily believed in the other theories of annihilation or restoration.
Personally, I believe that the topic of punishment in the afterlife is secondary or nonessential, so I like this saying:
“in essentials, unity; in nonessentials, liberty; in all things, charity (love).”
Give people space to choose one of these nonessential, Bible-supported theories. You can still have fellowship with them.
Jesus is still speaking to Peter, and the pronouns (e.g. “you”) are in the singular, so he is bequeathing authority to him. He is the first among equals.
The imagery of keys in this verse is taken from Is. 22:20-22, where Eliakim is appointed to be the steward or household manager of the house (dynasty or kingdom) of David:
20 In that day I will call my servant Eliakim the son of Hilkiah, 21 and I will clothe him with your robe, and will bind your sash on him, and will commit your authority to his hand. And he shall be a father to the inhabitants of Jerusalem and to the house of Judah. 22 And I will place on his shoulder the key of the house of David. He shall open, and none shall shut; and he shall shut, and none shall open. (Is. 22:20-22, ESV, emphasis added)
Jesus adds an element that is not found in Isaiah. The Messiah gives Peter keys (plural). Multiple keys show that Peter had access to all areas of the king’s household. A porter has just one key to open the main door, as Eliakim had.
So Peter is called to watch over and guide the Christian community of his generation. He is not the king, but a steward or household manager. He has access to the cupboards and larder to feed the community of God. Binding (tying up) and loosing means permitting things and not permitting things. He fulfilled this role admirably, when he was the one who opened the door of the gospel to Jews in Acts 2, when endorsed the mission to Samaritans (Acts 8), and when he obeyed God and proclaimed that Gentiles could be saved and welcomed into the people of God (Acts 10-11). Paul argued for this throughout his epistles, but Peter launched it first, and no one else had his authority to initiate the new global plan (after Jesus in Matt. 28:18-20).
The “keys” may also refer to teaching authority, and the apostolic community, who were inspired to write the New Testament, had special permission and authority that we don’t have today, though I believe those with an apostolic ministry are present among us.
However, as noted, Jesus is not saying that he intends an endless line of successors to Peter, as if the apostle launched religious papal emperors and kings. This political hierarchy takes the original meaning of the verse too far, as we saw with the hierarchy in v. 18. As again noted, Peter was an imperfect household manager, because he was rebuked both before Pentecost and after the outpouring of the Spirit (v. 23) and after the birth of the church during that festival (Gal. 2:11-14).
In fact, Matt. 18:18 expands this authority to the entire church, as it watches over the king’s household to reprove sin in a brother or sister in Christ and perhaps even to excommunicate him or her, as Paul did to the man who had been sinning with his mother-in-law (1 Cor. 5:1-5), and mostly importantly to restore him.
“kingdom of heaven”: Matthew substitutes “heaven” (literally heavens or plural) nearly every time (except for 12:28; 19:24; 21:31, 43, where he uses kingdom of God). Why? Four possible reasons: (1) Maybe some extra-pious Jews preferred the circumlocution or the roundabout way of speaking, but this answer is not always the right one, for Matthew does use the phrase “kingdom of God” four times; (2) the phrase “kingdom of heaven” points to Christ’s post-resurrection authority; God’s sovereignty in heaven and earth (beginning with Jesus’s ministry) is now mediated through Jesus (28:18); (3) “kingdom of God” makes God the king (26:29) and leaves less room to ascribe the kingdom to Jesus (16:28; 25:31, 34, 40; 27:42), but the phrase “the kingdom of heaven” leaves more room to say Jesus is the king Messiah. (4) It may be a stylistic variation that has no deeper reasoning behind it (France). In my view the third option shows the close connection to the doctrine of the Trinity; the Father and Son share authority, after the Father gives it to him. The kingdom of heaven is both the kingdom of the Father and the kingdom of the Messiah (Carson). And since I like streamlined interpretations, the fourth one also appeals to me.
Now let’s go for a general consideration of the kingdom of heaven / God. As noted in other verses that mention the kingdom in this commentary, the kingdom is God’s power, authority, rule, reign and sovereignty. He exerts all those things over all the universe but more specifically over the lives of people. It is his invisible realm, and throughout the Gospels Jesus is explaining and demonstrating what it looks like before their very eyes and ears. It is gradually being manifested from the realm of faith to the visible realm, but it is not political in the human sense. It is a secret kingdom because it does not enter humanity with trumpets blaring and full power and glory. This grand display will happen when Jesus comes back. In his first coming, it woos people to surrender to it. We can enter God’s kingdom by being born again (John 3:3, 5), by repenting (Matt. 4:17; Mark 1:5), by having the faith of children (Matt. 18:4; Mark 10:14-15), by being transferred from the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of the Son whom God loves (Col. 1:13), and by seeing their own poverty and need for the kingdom (Matt. 5:3; Luke 6:20; Jas. 2:5). The kingdom has already come in part at his First Coming, but not yet with full manifestation and glory and power until his Second Coming.
1 Introducing the Kingdom of God (begin a ten-part series)
Unfortunately, we have to discuss some Greek grammar, because Matthew uses a rare construction that goes like this:
The past tense verb + future tense of verb “to be” + perfect participle of a verb.
As I have noted, Matthew’s nickname is the Trimmer. He trims out a lot of small details that Mark and Luke leave in. But not in this case. I also note that Matthew’s Greek itself is very streamlined and gentle. In fact, it is much easier to translate than Luke’s (wordy) Greek. Matthew’s trimming and gentle and sweet and neat Greek must be deliberate, and so is this rare construction. He could have used the past tense and then the future tense, without the complicated syntax (sentence structure). So why would Matthew deploy complicated wording and a rare verb-tense combination?
Most translation go conservative and translate the latter two elements as a simple future:
Whatever you have bound on earth will be loosed in heaven, and whatever you have loosed on earth will be loosed in heaven.
The nuanced meaning of this translation says that Peter initiates, and heaven follows. Is that what Matthew (and even God) intends?
Again, why would Matthew the Trimmer and sweet and neat Greek writer use the more complicated construction? I believe the better translation is how I (and others) render it:
Whatever you have bound on earth will have been bound in heaven, and whatever you have loosed on earth will have been loosed in heaven.
The difference in nuance is clear enough. In this translation, heaven takes the initiative and Peter follows God, not the other way around.
Maybe this expanded translation can clarify the difference between the two translations:
Whatever you have bound on earth will have (already) been bound in heaven, and whatever you have loosed on earth will have (already) been loosed in heaven.
I inserted the modifier “already.” Do you now see the difference?
One scholar appeals to Matt. 18:18 to defend the first and typical translation, which uses the same Greek construction of past verb tense + future tense of verb “to be” + perfect participle, in the context of a prayer meeting of the kingdom community. The kingdom people act to bind or loose, and God follows, so humans take the initiative. But the same Greek construction teaches me the opposite. God initiates and guides the church. In a Charismatic, Spirit-filled, and Spirit-guided church, they hear from God and follow him in church discipline and governance. He gives the order. We obey. He leads. We follow.
Is God bound to follow our self-initiated decrees?
Once again, before leaving this verse, in the terms binding and loosing, Jesus is simply following the Jewish belief of permitting (loosing) and not permitting (binding). Keener expands on this idea, writing of the Jewish context both here in v. 19 and in 18:18:
In both functions—evaluating entrants and those already within the church—God’s people must evaluate on the authority of the heavenly court; the verb tenses allow the interpretation that they merely ratify the heavenly decree … Jesus’s agents were already exercising this authority in their earlier mission (10:14-15, 40) … Peter must thus accept into the church only those who share Peter’s confession of Jesus’s true identity (cf. John 20:22-23). (p. 430).
Recall what Matt. 10:14-15 and 40 say:
14 And whoever does not welcome you nor listens to your words, as you go outside the house or that town, shake the dust from off your feet. 15 I tell you the truth that it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah in the day of judgment than for that town. … 40 Anyone who welcomes you welcomes me, and anyone who welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. (Matt. 10:14-15, emphasis added)
[O]ne should pursue the imagery of keys that close and open, lock and unlock (based on Isa 22:22) and take the binding and loosing as referring to Christians’ making entrance to God’s kingdom available or unavailable to people through their witness, preaching, and ministry. This entrance to the kingdom will include the forgiveness of sins, tying this text in closely with John 20:23, which displays a very similar structure, and also with Jesus’ use of the phrase “keys of knowledge” in Luke 11:52. Illustrations of Peter’s privilege may then be found throughout Acts 1–12, in which Peter remains at the forefront of leadership in the early Christian proclamation of the gospel. It is also possible that Jesus envisions the unlocking of the powers of heaven to combat the attacking powers of the underworld (comment on 16:19).
So Christian proclamation of the gospel is the ground on which we may bind or loose. But Blomberg adds in the last sentence that we can unlock the powers of heaven to counterattack the powers of hell.
Renewalists (Pentecostals, Charismatics and Neo-Charismatics) will love that idea. They like to loose the powers of heaven and bind the powers of hell.
However, I don’t wish to be the killjoy and “wet blanket thrower” by taking away the command to bind Satan and loose the kingdom of God in Charismatic prayer meetings (which I gladly attend), but we need to follow Scripture. There are other Scriptures to bind Satan, mainly by getting people saved and away from the devil’s authority, and you can certainly pray that the Lord of the harvest would send out workers to expand the kingdom (9:38). And you can certainly pray that God would give wisdom to the church to lead people to come into the kingdom with repentance and the confession of faith that Peter uttered by the revelation from the Father: “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God!” New entrants should believe and confess this from the heart (Rom. 10:9). And you can certainly instruct people to stop and desist, when they are not living the life that the Spirit has for them, like fornication or drugs or homosexual behavior.
It occurs to me just now that if the people leading a Charismatic prayer gathering believe that Satan or a demon will interfere in the meeting as an interloper, then the leaders can certainly bind him in the spirit realm (in Jesus’ name). Though this verse is talking about the church taking authority over people, it can be expanded to Satanic interference (Keener, p. 430, note 91), particularly if demonized people, like witches, intend to barge into the meeting and create a ruckus. But should these leaders loose angels? Caution! God commands angels. “For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways” (Ps. 91:11). Humans don’t command them. They are probably already in your gathering to begin with.
The leaders of these meetings should decide how to fight demons interfering in a Christian meeting.
Then Blomberg says of the translation:
A long and somewhat stalemated debate has centered around the future perfect passive verbs in v. 19. In Classical Greek a reasonable translation of these two verbs (“will be bound” and “will be loosed”) would be “will have been bound” or “will have been loosed” (NIV marg.). Jesus would then be stressing how God’s sovereign initiative is worked out in the church. But in Hellenistic Greek this construction was often roughly equivalent to a simple future passive (as in the main text of the NIV), in which case Jesus teaches that God has delegated his authority to the church, which he leaves to act on its own initiative to bring people into the kingdom, which entrance he then ratifies. A mediating solution, supported by recent linguistic research, may be best with the translation will be in a state of boundedness / loosedness. Jesus’ point, then, will simply be that God promises that all who enter the kingdom do so in accordance with God’s sovereign will, without specifying one way or the other whose action caused whose response. (ibid.)
It looks like he says that we should take the phrases as simple futures, but I’m not so sure. It should be translated with a little more nuance. But I really like the last sentence. Please read it again for clarity.
As I already noted, Peter fulfilled this role wonderfully, when he got the vision from heaven that Gentiles were no longer unclean in themselves, by virtue of being Gentiles, but are now welcome in the ekklēsia or assembly or gathering of God (Acts 10).
Next, some super-extra-confident Word of Faith teachers say that God is bound to his Word. What they don’t realize is that he is not bound to follow their interpretation of Scripture. Yes, we know how things end up in Rev. 21-22 because he told us, so he will follow his plan, not ours. However, in the interim time, he is not bound to heal us or make us wealthy just because we decree it. He may have other plans. Yes, I believe healing is in the atonement, like all other blessings, but God is still sovereign, and we have to ask him for healing
We ask, but leave the results in his hands.
“strictly ordered”: “strictly” was inserted because it is implied in the verb. You can leave it out, if you wish.
Once again, why would Jesus not want it bandied around that he was the Messiah? People have to discover things little by little. Also, he did not intend for them to impose their version of the Messiah on himself. Even the twelve disciples, despite Peter’s accurate confession, did not fully grasp at this point who the Messiah really was. Why allow them to spread it around prematurely and not fully and accurately? He was in charge of his identity; they were not. They expected a conquering Messiah who would wipe out the Romans and ride into Jerusalem and keep it by God’s mighty power. Instead, by coming into Jerusalem riding on a colt-donkey (Matt. 21:1-11), he would perplex the high and mighty, like Herod and the Jerusalem establishment, but the little people, like Peter the fisherman, would understand the Messiah’s mission more clearly, though not perfectly clearly, yet. It takes more than just educated, popular guesses, so the crowds could not figure it out. So what was important was to spend time with Jesus to the very end.
The problem Protestants have with the Roman Catholic teaching concerning Peter is the notion of sole apostolic succession emanating from Peter as the first bishop of Rome … This dogma is anachronistic for Matthew, who knows nothing about Peter being the first pope or of the primacy of Rome over other Christian churches. Matthew would not have endorsed the idea of Peter’s infallibility or sole authority in the church, since Peter speaks as a representative of the other apostles and often makes mistake (15:15; 16:16; 17:4, 25; 19:27; 26:33-35; cf. Acts 11:1-18; Gal. 2:11-14). In 18:18, binding and loosing is a function of the church, not Peter. Peter is later sent by the church and is accountable to the church (Acts 8:14; 11:1-18). James presides over Peter, and Paul rebukes Peter (Acts 15; Gal. 2:11-14). Peter himself speaks of Jesus as the chief shepherd, senior pastor, or pontifex maximus [high priest] of the church (1 Pet. 5:4) (Turner on 16:20).
You can take or leave any or all of his assessment. I agree with it.
Finally, see my posts about angels in my systematic theology portion of this website:
GrowApp for Matt. 16:13-20
A.. Study Rom. 10:9. What is your confession of faith? Did you believe it from the heart? Tell your story.
Jesus Foretells His Death and Resurrection (Matt. 16:21-28)
21 Then from that moment, Jesus began to show his disciples that it is necessary that he depart for Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and the chief priests and teachers of the law and to be killed and on the third day to be raised. 22 Then Peter began to rebuke him, saying, “May God be gracious to you! It will certainly not happen to you!” 23 But Jesus wheeled around and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are stumbling block to me! You don’t set your mind on the things of God but on the things of people!”
24 Then at that moment, Jesus said to his disciples, “If anyone wants to come after me, let him deny himself and pick up his cross and follow me. 25 For whoever wants to save his life will lose it. And whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. 26 For what will it benefit a person if he gains the whole world but suffers damage to his life? And what will a person give in exchange for his life? 27 For the Son of Man will come in the glory of his Father with his angels, and then at that time ‘he will reward each person in accordance with his conduct.’ [Pss. 28:4; 62:12; Prov. 24:12]
28 I tell you the truth: some are standing here who will not experience death until they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.”
Here we round a corner in the mission of Jesus. He is headed toward Jerusalem to die.
“it is necessary”: it comes from the word dei (pronounced day). It is an impersonal verb (think of the French verb il faut, pronounced eel foh). The Greek verb means: “it is necessary, one must … one ought or should … what one should do” (Shorter Lexicon). He knew his mission, and it included his death, which was destined by God, to be the substitution for us. He died in our place. This requirement was unavoidable and necessary.
Jesus was called by the Father to die for the sins of the world, and the Father reinforced this calling during his prayer time. But the good news is that Jesus would rise from the dead on the third day. It makes me wonder how God would call us to die. That’s the topic of the next verses.
“teachers of the law”: they are also called scribes. You can learn about all three groups at this link:
All three groups were the Watchdogs of Theology and Behavior (David E. Garland, Luke: Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament [Zondervan, 2011], p. 243). The problem which Jesus had with them can be summed up in Eccl. 7:16: “Be not overly righteous.” He did not quote that verse, but to him they were much too enamored with the finer points of the law, while neglecting its spirit (Luke 11:37-52; Matt. 23:1-36). Instead, he quoted this verse from Hos. 6:6: “Go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners” (Matt. 9:13; 12:7, ESV). Overdoing righteousness damages one’s relationship with God and others.
This verse will be literally fulfilled in Matt. 26:64-65, when the chief priests, the elders and the teachers of the law bring him into the council room and interrogate him and conclude that he committed blasphemy (Luke 22:66 // Mark 14:62-64), which deserves death (Lev. 24:10-16, 23).
“third day”: Some people take this to mean literally seventy-two hours, because Jonah spent three days and three nights in the big fish (Jnh. 1:17; Matt. 12:40), so Jesus must also spend seventy-two hours in the grave. But we over-read the intent here. The sign of Jonah was his coming out of the depths of the belly and the sea, which was a type of the resurrection. Let’s not over-analyze it. Jesus was crucified and died on Friday; he spent part of Friday and Saturday and Sunday in the grave—or his body did—and his body was raised from the dead early on Sunday morning: Friday, Saturday, and Sunday—three days. They don’t have to be seventy-two hours. It was a Jewish custom to count a partial day as one day. It’s inclusive counting. Go to biblegateway.com and look up “third day.” It is amazing how many times the two words appear and how significant they are in many contexts.
Rising on the third day is the key to early apostolic preaching. All throughout the first five chapters of Acts, Peter and the others refer to it time and again. Paul referenced the resurrection when he spoke to the Athenians in Mars Hill (Acts 17:30-32).
1 Cor. 15:3-8 is all about the resurrection:
3 For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, 5 and that he appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve. 6 After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. 7 Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, 8 and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born. (1 Cor. 15:3-8, NIV)
Paul omitted the fact that he appeared to women first. (No, Paul did not omit this out of malice.) He appeared then to Cephas (Peter) and then the twelve. Next, he appeared to more than 500 at a time. Where did that happen? In Galilee? In or around Jerusalem? Probably the holy city, where the Jesus community gathered in larger numbers, at least according to what Acts says. (Or maybe they appeared in large numbers in Galilee, his main ministry operation.) In any case, Paul recounted what he knew. And the resurrection is the key reality and doctrine. Never give it up as nonessential, people of God. It is the core of our faith.
Yes, Peter really did approach Jesus—or another translation could be that he took the Messiah aside—as if to give him private instruction. Yes, the Greek really does say “rebuke.” Peter actually rebuked Jesus. The lead apostle may have had enough insight from the Father to declare Jesus to the Messiah, the Son of the living God, but Peter did not have enough insight to calculate the plan of God that the Messiah must suffer and die, as Is. 53 says.
“God be gracious to you”: it is rare word, hileōs (pronounced hee-ley-ohss) in the NT, appearing only at Heb. 8:12 and in Matt. 16:22. It means “gracious, merciful” (Heb. 8:12) or “may God be gracious to you” or “God forbid” (the Shorter Lexicon). In classical Greek it comes from hilaos (pronounced hee-lah-oss) and when used of the gods, it means “propitious, gracious” and of men it means “gracious, kindly, gentle” (Liddell and Scott). So Peter is saying that God will be kind and gracious to the Messiah, so that he won’t suffer and die. As noted, he didn’t factor in Is. 53. He didn’t have his mind lifted up to the plan of God.
“wheeled around”: it could be translated more gently as “turned,” but I like the drama because Satan was behind the human-centered plan of Peter.
“mind set on”: it comes from one Greek verb phroneō (pronounced froh-neh-oh). It means, depending on the context: (1) “think, hold or form an opinion, judge”; (2) “set one’s mind on, be intent on”; (3) “have thoughts or attitudes, be minded or disposed” (the Shorter Lexicon). The editor recommends the second definition for Matt. 16:23. Peter had a good idea, but he did not have a God idea.
“people”: it is the Greek noun anthrōpos (pronounced ahn-throw-poss, and we get our word anthropology from it). Conservative translations have “man,” but that is not exactly right. It encompasses all persons, much like our archaic word mankind includes women. The best translation, in most instances, is person, not man (in the singular). I chose “people,” but it could also be translated, freely, as “human centered things”!
“disciples”: see v. 5 for more comments.
Here we have the Great Paradox. A paradox takes place when you join two seeming contradictory statements, yet they can be resolved, in a startling way.
Which statement is the paradox? (See also v. 48.)
1.. You gain your life by your own power, drive, and ambition.
2.. You gain your life by surrendering and giving it to God through Christ Jesus.
The world chooses the first one every day. It is not the paradox.
Jesus calls us to the second one. You gain by giving up; you win by losing. That’s the paradox. You surrender to the all-powerful God, not to yourself or to fate or to the devil or to the world’s systems. To God, your loving Father.
Now let’s allow Jesus to unpack what he means.
This verse may be the most important down-to-earth verse in the Gospel of Matthew for followers of Jesus. Theological truths are good and necessary, but it is difficult to follow a theology, and easier to follow a person. Many follow a theology and will even die for it. But are they willing to follow Jesus, even to the point of dying to themselves? It is better to follow a person than a theology. However, a word of warning: false doctrines about Jesus have arisen, and false Messiahs will come and deceive many, so be sure to stick close to the biblical Jesus (Matt. 24:23-24). But once you have the biblical Jesus, be ready to give up everything for him.
The key word is “if.” Did they really want to follow Jesus? If they do, then they must die. Die to what? Die to their old sin nature, their shortsighted desires and blinded will. And people better not think that their desires and will can lead them to a full life. Their own untamed, unsurrendered desires and wills can lead them only so far, but at the end of their lives, they will come up empty. They will discover that after they were climbing the ladder of success and got to the top, the ladder was leaning against the wrong building.
One has to say something like this every day: “Lord, I cling to the cross. I surrender my life to you. Not my will, but yours be done.” Do you trust him that his will is best? If you do, then you are on your way—his way! It’s an adventure. If you do not, then you will stumble around and get easily angry and frustrated and live a questionable life
If you save your life—do as you please—you shall lose it. If you run and manage your life, then eventually you will lose it, despite your best effort to preserve it. When you climb up your self-built ladder, you will have to climb down again or you might come crashing down, depending on how fast and furiously and carelessly you climb. But when you give your soul or life to him, he will give it back to you repaired and even brand new by his miracle. You can be born again.
Turner speaks of three reasons to deny oneself: (1) self-preservation in the present life “leads to ultimate self-destruction, and self-denial leads to ultimate self-fulfillment (16:25; cf. 10:39).” (2) Self-denial “speaks of the folly of gaining material wealth in the present life and ultimately losing one’s soul (16:26; cf. 4:8; 6:19-24; Ps. 49:7-9; Eccles. 1:3; Luke 12:13-21; 1 Tim. 6:6-19; Rev. 3:17-18).” (3) One must take up the cross is the “near prospect of future reward at the glorious return of Jesus with his angels (13:40-41; 24:30-31; 25:31; 26:64; cf. Zech. 14:5)” (comment on 16:25-27).
“save”: it is the verb sōzō (pronounced soh-zoh). It could be translated as “preserve” or “protect” or “rescue” your life. If you keep or preserve the status quo or your present condition, then you shall lose it. You were made for God. When you try to preserve your soul or life without him, you will ruin it. When you follow him and surrender to him, he will help you gain, save, and preserve it.
Since the theology of salvation (soteriology) is so critical for our lives, let’s look more closely at the noun salvation, which is sōtēria (pronounced soh-tay-ree-ah and used 46 times) and at the verb sōzō (pronounced soh-zoh and used 106 times)
Greek is the language of the NT. BDAG defines the noun sōtēria as follows, depending on the context: (1) “deliverance, preservation” … (2) “salvation.”
The verb sōzō means “save, rescue, heal” in a variety of contexts, but mostly it is used of saving the soul. BDAG says that the verb means, depending on the context: (1) “to preserve or rescue from natural dangers and afflictions, save, keep from harm, preserve,” and the sub-definitions under no. 1 are as follows: save from death; bring out safely; save from disease; keep, preserve in good condition; thrive, prosper, get on well; (2) “to save or preserve from transcendent danger or destruction, save or preserve from ‘eternal’ death … “bring Messianic salvation, bring to salvation,” and in the passive it means “be saved, attain salvation”; (3) some passages in the NT say we fit under the first and second definition at the same time (Mark 8:5; Luke 9:24; Rom. 9:27; 1 Cor. 3:15).
Another rarer verb is diasōzō (pronounced dee-ah-soh-zoh and used 8 times), and the prefix means “through.” Here are the occurrences: Mark 14:36; Luke 7:3; Acts 23:24; 27:43-44; 28:1, 4; 2; 1 Pet. 3:20. It means what the regular verb does, but often to be rescued through and up to the very end, like Paul’s ship landing on Malta after going through the storm.
As noted throughout this commentary, the noun salvation and the verb save go a lot farther than just preparing the soul to go on to heaven. Together, they have additional benefits: keeping and preserving and rescuing from harm and dangers; saving or freeing from diseases and demonic oppression; and saving or rescuing from sin dominating us; ushering into heaven and rescuing us from final judgment. What is our response to the gift of salvation? You are grateful and then you are moved to act. When you help or rescue one man from homelessness or an orphan from his oppression, you have moved one giant step towards salvation of his soul. Sometimes feeding a hungry man and giving clothes to the naked or taking him to a medical clinic come before saving his soul.
All of it is a package called salvation and saved.
“life”: in these two verses, it is the noun psuchē (pronounced ps-oo-khay, be sure to pronounce the ps-, and our word psychology comes from it). It can mean, depending on the context: “soul, life” and it is hard to draw a firm line between the two. “Breath, life principle, soul”; “earthly life”; “the soul as seat and center of the inner life of man in its many and varied aspects, desires, feelings, emotions”; “self’; or “that which possesses life, a soul, creature, person.” You can translate it as “soul,” if you wish.
We surrender our lives to God, our loving Father. As noted, we don’t surrender ourselves to the fates or the world or certainly not to the devil. If you surrender your life to God and feel despair, then Satan is attacking you. You say, “I surrendered my life to my loving Father, not to despair!”
People are also fearful that God shall call them to the foreign mission field. However, Matt. 25:14-30, in the Parable of the Talents, the king (God) gives different amounts of talents (money) to invest for the kingdom, according to the different capacities of the servants. To the servant who could handle it, the king gave ten talents. To another servant, the king gave two. And to the third servant the king gave one. God can size you up and see whether you have the capacity or ability to go on the mission field. If you do not, there is no shame in receiving a less difficult responsibility. Just multiply your two talents or one talent and then you’ll hear the words, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”
A little theology:
Most Renewalists believe in the three parts of humanity: body, soul and spirit (1 Thess. 5:23 and Heb. 4:12 and other verses). Other Renewalists believe that we are two parts: body and soul / spirit (2 Cor. 4:16). Spirit and soul are just synonyms, like heart and spirit are synonyms. Surely there are not now four parts, are there (body, soul, spirit, heart)?
Here in this verse it means life, and not just physical life, but your whole existence and health in your soul.
“lose”: it comes from the verb apollumi (pronounced ah-poh-loo-mee), and it means, depending on the context: (1) “to cause or experience destruction (active voice) ruin, destroy”; (middle voice) “perish, be ruined”; (2) “to fail to obtain what one expects or anticipates, lose out on, lose”; (3) “to lose something that one already has or be separated from a normal connection, lose, be lost” (BDAG). The Shorter Lexicon adds “die.”
It is frustrating when your expectations are unfulfilled. Prov. 13:12 says, “Hope deferred makes the heart sick” (NIV). What you anticipate may not be fulfilled. You get angry. Solution? Surrender your expectation to God, and let him put into you his hopes and dreams.
“for my sake”: So you must lose your life by his grace and for his benefit or sake. Your surrender cannot be self-denial that is self-directed or misdirected or even nondirected. It is not austerity for the sake of austerity. Dying daily is for him, to him and by him (by his grace).
“benefit”: it comes from the verb ōpheleō (pronounced oh-feh-leh-oh), and it means, depending on the context: “help, aid, benefit, be of use (to), accomplish, be of value.”
“whole world”: recall that Satan showed Jesus the whole world and offered it to him, but Jesus rejected the offer (Matt 4:1-11). Don’t strive to gain or win the whole world. Let God through Christ give you the part of his world that belongs to you as his gift to you. In other words, do your job or ministry faithfully. Walk in the lane or mission he has given you. It starts with him and ends with him, and he will show you where you fit.
“person”: see vv. 22-23 for more comments, under “people.”
“suffer damage to”: it is the verb zēmioō (pronounced zay-mee-ah-oh). In the active voice it means “to inflict injury or punishment.” In the passive voice, it means “to suffer damage or loss or forfeit.” Here it is in the passive. You will suffer loss or lose out if you seek hard after worldly things. Matt. 6:33 says that we must seek him first and righteous living—living in him—and he will add all those things to you.
The last line in the verse is a great rhetorical question. What would a person exchange for his life or soul? Money? Power? Bad exchanges. You must surrender your life to God and let him fulfill your desires. Luke 12:31 says that we must seek his kingdom, and then the things of life will be added to us. Then the next verse says that we should not fear because it is the Father’s good pleasure to give us the kingdom.
Here we must commit to Jesus because he is destined to come in judgment.
“Son of Man”: see v. 13 for more comments.
“conduct”: it could be translated as “what they have done,” but that is a circumlocution. In any case, the conduct or their actions is about remaining true to the Messiah and his call to commitment.
In this verse Jesus teaches us about his Second Coming. He is here now, and this is his first coming. Jesus is destined to or will come with the Father’s glory and angels. He is going to judge each person. Please do not believe the popular teaching going around that God is not a judging God, as I heard two Word-of-Faith and Word-of-Grace teachers claim, one after another on Christian television. (They combine those two doctrines in their teaching.) They are wrong. God will judge everyone by their works or conduct, good or bad.
Please see the link that talks of God’s judgment by good and bad works:
And this one:
As I noted at Matt. 13:36-43: In the Parable of the Wheat and Weeds, particularly Matt. 13:39-43; and in the Parable of the Net, particularly Matt. 13:49-50; and here in Matt. 16:27; and in the Parable of the Sheep and the Goats (Matt. 25:31-46), Jesus clearly teaches that the end of This Age and the new Messianic Age (or Kingdom Age or the Age to Come) are ushered in right after the Second Coming and the judgment of the righteous and the wicked happen at the same time.
We can depict things in this flow chart:
___________← This Age –——⸻→| End of
First Coming → Inaugurated Kingdom → Second Coming → Judgment → Messianic Age / Kingdom Age / Age to Come
The Second Coming (Parousia) stops This Age. Then there is one big judgment, in which the righteous and wicked are judged together. One can even say that the final judgment happens during the Messianic Age / Kingdom Age / The Age to Come. All three terms mean the same thing. Finally, the Kingdom which Jesus inaugurated at his first coming will have been fully realized and accomplished at his Second Coming (Parousia), after judgment. And so after God sweeps aside the wicked and Satan and demons, the New Messianic or Kingdom Age can begin in true and pure and undisrupted rulership.
Bottom line: All of the New Testament (outside of a few contested verses in the Revelation) fully and clearly and consistently teach this flow chart:
___________← This Age ———⸻→| End of
First Coming → Inaugurated Kingdom —→ Second Coming → Judgment → Fully Realized Kingdom Age
To see how consistent Jesus’s teaching is in the above, bottom-line flow chart, please see these posts:
Matthew 13 (scroll down to vv. 42-43)
Matthew 19 (scroll down to vv. 28-29)
Matthew 22 (scroll down to vv. 29-33)
Matthew 24 (scroll down to Summary and Conclusion)
Matthew 25 (scroll down to Summary and Conclusion)
What about the Church? The Father and the resurrected and ascended Son and the outpoured Spirit, by means of the inaugurated kingdom, created the church at Pentecost (Matt. 16:18; Acts 2:1-4). It exists in This Age and preaches the gospel of the kingdom. It will be snatched up or raptured at the Second Coming, meet Jesus in the air, descend with him, go through judgment, and then finally will last forever in the Fully Realized Kingdom Age.
Until and before the Second Coming, we now live in the conflict and battle between This Age and the Inaugurated Kingdom, proclaimed by Jesus during his ministry. (They are not the same things but are at war with each other!) We are in the process of binding Satan and his demonic hordes, by expelling demons from people’s lives but mainly by preaching the gospel, so people surrender to the Son’s Lordship, and then Satan is pushed back and people experience victory in their lives. The gospel and life in the Spirit, coming after Jesus’s ascension in This Age, though happening during the inaugurated Kingdom, are so powerful that saved and redeemed kingdom citizens can experience victory over the power of sin in their lives in This Age. The presence of sin in their lives is not removed until they get their new resurrected and transformed bodies and minds in The Age to Come. The Second Coming stops This Age, which is replaced and displaced with the fully realized Messianic or Kingdom Age or The Age to Come.
There is no word on a literal thousand-year reign with two comings and “several first” resurrections. And there is no separate rapture that makes the church disappear, before the Second Coming. If Jesus believed in a separate rapture, he would have taught it here; he missed his chance. However, he did not miss his chance and he did not teach it. Therefore, he did not believe in a separate rapture. All of it is too convoluted. Instead, the Gospels (and Epistles) present a streamlined picture of salvation history and God’s dealing with his human creation and the return of Christ.
An amillennialist believes that the millennium begins with the Inaugurated Kingdom, but apparently it is quiet and behind the scenes (note, for example, the Parable of the Mustard Seed and its slow growth in Matt. 13:31-32); Satan is not literally bound with chains (as if a spirit being could be), even though Jesus did teach that he bound the strongman (Matt. 12:29; Mark 3:27; Luke 11:21-22). So what this binding means is that Satan cannot now fully stop the advance of the kingdom (as Satan did to the ancient Israelites, except a remnant). Before Jesus came, every nation was bound by satanic deception. However, after Jesus inaugurated the kingdom, even under Islamic and communist regimes, the gospel has a way of infiltrating societies, even if underground. Satan can no longer deceive the nations as he did before Jesus came. Instead, kingdom citizens, surrendered to the Kingship of the King and following him, are plundering Satan’s domain of This Age and rescuing people out of it and transferring them to the inaugurated kingdom of God. The final victory over Satan will be fully manifested at his Second Coming.
In contrast, based on his interpretation of a few verses in Rev. 20, one chapter in the most symbolic book of the Bible, a premillennialist believes that a literal thousand years of Christ (not shown in flow charts) is ushered in at the Second Coming, where there will be peace and harmony. And Satan is literally bound in chains until the end of the thousand years. During the literal millennium, people will still die, so the last enemy (death) is not defeated after all, at the Second Coming (even though Paul said death would be defeated, in 1 Cor. 15:23-26, 51-56). However, the theory of a literal thousand years says that death and Satan are defeated at the end of the millennium, when another resurrection and another judgment will take place.
Never mind, however, that in John 5:28-29 and Matt. 13:41-43 and 25:31-46, Jesus teaches that the wicked and righteous are judged together at the end of This Age, as indicated in the above flow charts. Interpreting literally a deliberately and intentionally symbolic book (Revelation) runs aground quickly. Things soon become convoluted and complicated, in comparison with the nonsymbolic, streamlined Gospel and Epistles.
So then where does the rapture fit in? When all peoples are called out of their tombs and those who are alive also respond to Christ descending from heaven at the Second Coming, they will be “caught up” (the rapture) and meet the Lord in the air (1 Thess. 4:15-17). Then they will descend with Jesus to a new heaven and new earth, which will have been recreated, renewed, renovated or reconstituted. They will be judged, and the wicked will be sent away to punishment, and the righteous will be welcomed into the Messianic Age / Kingdom Age / The Age to Come (as distinct from This Age). In other words, the rapture and the Second Coming happen at the same time and are the same event.
Please see my post:
There is no reason, biblically, to overthink and complicate these verses and insert a separate rapture that happens before the Second Coming. Just because a teaching is popular does not make it right.
Personally, I am now rapidly trending towards amillennialism because it is streamlined, and I don’t believe the NT teaches convoluted theories. The entire NT fits together if we adopt amillennialism, from Matt. 1 to Rev. 22. I cannot allow, in my own Bible interpretation, a few contested verses in Rev. 20 to confuse the clear teaching of Jesus in the Gospels and the apostolic teaching in the Epistles. That is, I don’t believe we should allow Rev. 20 (the only few verses where one thousand years are mentioned) or the entire book of the Revelation, the most symbolic book of the Bible (after Chapter 3), to guide our interpretation of these clear teachings in the Gospels and the Epistles. Instead, we should allow the clear, straightforward, nonsymbolic teachings in the Gospels and Epistles to guide our interpretations of the most symbolic book in the Bible, in which even the numbers may be symbolic and probably are. To see everything fit together, all we have to do is turn the kaleidoscope one notch or click and adopt amillennialism. I am willing to do that.
This guidance in interpreting Scripture is called the perspicuity (clarity) of Scripture. Clarity guides the unclear portions. My main point: keep the plain thing the main thing in hermeneutics (science of interpretation), and let the clear verses guide the unclear ones.
This interpretation enjoys the beauty of simplicity by eliminating all the complications that popular end-time Bible prophecy teachers have been imposing on the Gospels and Epistles for decades—over a century. Since this tradition has deep roots—not to say entrenched—in the conservative sectors of American Evangelicalism (broadly defined to incorporate the Renewal Movements), these teachers won’t give up their interpretation easily. So I hope to reach and teach the younger generations and all other openminded people of all generations. They need to prepare for tough times ahead. I’m not a pastor, but I can still have a teacher’s pastoral heart.
But in these eschatological (end-time) discussions:
“In essentials, unity; in nonessentials, liberty; in all things, charity (love).”
We should not break fellowship with those with whom we differ in eschatological matters.
Now let’s move on.
Next, France connects v. 27 with Jesus’s enthronement at his ascension. He has a point because the phrase “shall come” could be translated “about to come.” However, BDAG, a Greek lexicon which most scholars consider to be authoritative, says that Matt. 16:27 is best translated as “destined” or “inevitable.” “With present infinitive to denote an action that necessarily follows a divine decree is destined, must, will certainly.” In this verse it is the present infinitive “to come.” I chose “will come” (future tense).
Further, Matthew records three parables in which Jesus spoke of a delay of a key person: the Parable of the Faithful and Unfaithful Servant (24:45-51), the Parable of the Ten Maidens (25:1-13), and the Parable of the Talents (25:14-30). In each parable, the delayed key figure is the Son of Man, and the entire context, beginning with 24:36 is about the Second Coming and the synteleia (closing or wrap-up) of the age. His coming in judgment matches well with the final judgment described in Matt. 25:31-46. Therefore, this verse does not exclusively teach the enthronement at his ascension. He has not yet come in judgment over all men; it is still in the future.
“glory”: it is the noun doxa (pronounced dox-ah), and it means, depending on the context: (1) “the condition of being bright or shining, brightness, splendor, radiance”: (2) “a state of being magnificent, greatness, splendor, anything that catches the eye”; (3) “honor as enhancement or recognition of status or performance, fame, recognition, renown, honor, prestige”; (4) “a transcendent being deserving of honor, majestic being” (BDAG). In this verse the first and second meaning fits here, even the fourth one would fit, too.
See the final part of a three-part series:
So the Son, in the authority of the Father, and holy angels will appear gloriously, with a bright light and with splendor, radiance, and greatness. His coming will catch our eye, to say the least. But it will not be as if the Father comes literally, but his glory will surround his Son and angels. They will come back physically and literally.
The good news for us regular Bible readers is that this verse in no way presents the time or season of his return; that’s not the point here.
“angels”: An angel, both in Hebrew and Greek, is really a messenger. Angels are created beings, while Jesus was the one who created all things, including angels (John 1:1-4). For more comments, scroll back up to v. 20.
Renewalists believe that angels appear to people in their dreams or in person. It is God’s ongoing ministry through them to us.
Finally, Jesus will reward—the Greek verb could mean “pay back” or “repay”—in accordance of how they conducted themselves throughout their whole life.
“conduct”: Jesus uses an unexpected noun here: praxis. It is used in the singular, and in the singular it means the conduct throughout one’s life (Olmstead, pp. 51-52). So it could be translated as “lifelong conduct.” Please make no mistake. The powerful Son of Man will return and judge us all, according to our deeds or our lifelong conduct.
Other verses for judgment based on our conduct: Ps. 27:4; 61:13; Prov. 24:12; Jer. 27:29; Lam. 3:64; Rom. 2:6; 2 Cor. 11:15; 2 Tim. 4:14; Rev. 2:23; 20:12, 13.
The wrath of God is coming. Wrath means “judicial reckoning.” God does not fly off the handle and lose his temper. No, picture him as an English judge with a white wig on. Let’s learn a lesson. It took hundreds of years before God judged his people, the ancient Israelites. He sent numerous prophets to warn them about the coming judgment. But they refused to repent, except a remnant. His judgment-wrath came by deporting them, but he allowed a remnant to return to the land of Judah / Israel, seventy years later.
God’s wrath is judicial.
It is not like this:
But like this:
That is a picture of God in judgment.
God does not judge out of capricious anger after he loses his temper. He systematically evaluates everything we have done. And he is perfectly willing to give us a favorable judgment.
Be warned, people of God! Call out to him and cling to the cross and surrender everything in your life, every day of your life.
This verse introduces the encounter of Jesus with Moses and Elijah, in glory and splendor in the next pericope or section (vv. 28-35). So none of them experienced death before the transfiguration happened. However, Carson says it refers to more than just the Transfiguration in the next chapter. He says it refers to the dynamic reign of God, as the disciples went out and preached the kingdom and saw miracles and people saved. So he expands the meaning of “some will not taste death” to more disciples than just Peter, James, and John.
“I tell you the truth”: Matthew uses this expression thirty times in his Gospel. “Truth” comes from the word amēn (pronounced ah-main and comes into English as amen). It expresses the authority of the one who utters it. The Hebrew root ’mn means faithfulness, reliability and certainty. It could be translated as “truly I tell you” or I tell you with certainty.” Jesus’s faith in his own words is remarkable and points to his unique calling. In the OT and later Jewish writings is indicates a solemn pronouncement, but Jesus’ “introductory uses of amēn to confirm his own words is unique” (France at his comment on 5:18). The authoritative formula emphasizes pronouncements which are noteworthy and will be surprising or uncomfortable to the listener.
“experience”: the Greek verb is geuomai (pronounced gew-oh-my), and it literally means taste. Many translate it as taste. I chose experience because after Jesus appears in glory with Moses and Elijah, the prophets will disappear, and the glory did not remain; therefore Peter, James and John, who were with Jesus on the mountaintop, did not go deeper than a taste of his permanent glory. Truth be told, we will never be able to draw the line between our tasting of God and his glory and experiencing them. It is a matter of the soul, and reading the inner life is difficult in passages like this.
“kingdom of God”: see v. 19 for more comments.
“Son of Man”: see v. 13 for more comments.
So how do we transition from v. 27, which teaches the great Second Coming, and v. 28, which teaches an interim coming (of sorts). Further, why would Jesus talk about their not experiencing death to four disciples, if he was referring to the transfiguration, just six days away (17:1-13)?
R.. T. France says:
But it is likely that Matthew (and Mark and Luke) saw in this vision [in Matt. 17:1-13] at least a proleptic fulfillment of Jesus’s solemn words in v. 28, even though the truth of Jesus’ kingship was to be more concretely embodied in later events following his resurrection. (p. 641).
Osborne, after discussing various optional interpretations concludes, wisely:
The transfiguration, however, must be added as a proleptic anticipation of these kingdom events [in v. 27] that then exhibit the power and glory of the coming of the Son of Man and themselves are a foretaste of the second coming. It cannot be the sole thrust, because “not experience death” would make little sense if used of the next event [transfiguration]. Nevertheless, it does inaugurate the series (and is even more explicit in Mark 9:1). (p. 639).
When Jesus again takes some disciples aside for private instruction, …. His transfiguration among them provide a foretaste of his glory when he will return to when he will return to judge the earth(16:28). Once could offer various suggestions for the background of Jesus’ proleptic “glorification” here … [then Keener offers various parallels in ancient texts]. (p. 437).
Blomberg, commenting on vv. 27-28, agrees with the “prolepsis” interpretation.
The glory of Jesus’ second coming will soon be foreshadowed in his transfiguration (itself a foretaste of his resurrection). Verse 28 remains cryptic but is best taken as just such a reference to Jesus’ transfiguration—the very next event described. Second Peter 1:16–18 reinforces this equation of the transfiguration with Christ’s coming in glory, while the parallelism between vv. 27a and 28b, each speaking of the “Son of Man coming” further supports this interpretation.
Carson, after thoroughly exploring the various optional interpretations, lands on this one:
It seems best to take v. 28 as having a more generic reference—namely, not referring simply to the resurrection or Pentecost or the like, but to the manifestation of Christ’s kingly reign exhibited after the resurrection in a host of ways, not the least of them being the rapid multiplication of the disciples and the mission to the Gentiles. Some of those standing there would live to see Jesus’ gospel proclaimed throughout the Roman Empire and a rich “harvest” (cf. 9:37-38) of converts reaped for Jesus Messiah. This best suits the flexibility of the “kingdom” concept in the Synoptic Gospels. (p. 434)
So it seems that various interpretations are valid, but some are closer to the mark. Prolepsis means a “foretaste” or “anticipation.” Webster’s dictionary: “The representation or assumption of a future act or development as if presently existing or accomplished.” In other words, the transfiguration in 17:1-13 represents the future act of the Second Coming (v. 27) as if the Second Coming existed or was accomplished at the time of the transfiguration.
I would like to combine the scholars’ interpretation who emphasize prolepsis with Carson’s interpretation of the kingdom. The “kingdom” concept in v. 28 must be taken broadly, to include the advance of the kingdom and the proclamation of the gospel and the growth of the church throughout the Roman Empire, according to the complete description of the kingdom in the synoptic Gospels. The kingdom is not static, but advances, because the resurrected Lord is reigning over it. And the transfiguration is a foretaste of his reign.
Fuller discussion here:
GrowApp for Matt. 16:21-28
A.. Peter never had sight of God’s full plan. Have you ever strayed from God’s plan for your life? How did you get back on track?
B.. Jesus calls us to deny ourselves or surrender everything to him. How is that going for you? Any unsurrendered, secret areas that need full disclosure and surrender?
Summary and Conclusion
Matthew 16 is a chapter of zigzags. The disciples do not catch on at first, but then Peter does. But then he loses tracks of God’s plan.
The Pharisees and Sadducees demand a sign from Jesus. They must have been expecting signs similar to what Moses and Elijah produced. Jesus said that that generation was evil for demanding them. He was not a performing seal at a waterpark. The only sign offered to this generation was the sign of Jonah, who came out of the large fish, which was a type of the resurrection.
Then Jesus told his disciples to watch out for the yeast or leaven of the Pharisees. They understood the word yeast to be literal. They discussed this word among themselves and concluded that he must mean yeast bread. Wrong. Jesus overheard them and expressed divine frustration. No, he told them. The yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees! Then it clicked. He meant their teaching or doctrine. Now we get it!
Jesus asked the disciples, as they went northward, who the crowds were saying he was. He did not ask out of insecurity, but he was drawing out from them their insight. In Scripture things, truth takes time to ascertain. Peter answered correctly: The Messiah (Christ), the Son of the living God.
Then Jesus confers on Peter a special place of leadership. He was given the keys of the kingdom, much like a steward or household manager was given the key to the king’s household. He was not the king, but he could draw on the resources in the king’s household to feed and bless people. The gates of Hades will not overpower the kingdom, either. This phrase was a metaphor for the threshold of death, a number of OT passages using it. It means that death won’t conquer the kingdom, even when Jesus died on the cross. He was resurrected and thereby defeated death.
Then Jesus conferred on him (and by extension other leaders) the authority to bind and loose on earth; when he does, it will have already been bound or loosed in heaven. It is not nailed down what this phrase means precisely, so it probably encompasses several layers: accepting and rejecting people entering into the kingdom, depending on their confession of the Sonship and Messiahship of Jesus; accepting sound teaching or rejecting straying teachings. It may even mean authority over demons who intrude into kingdom community gatherings, where they do not belong, say, in the person of a witch doctor or another demonized person.
Then Peter got a big rebuke because he did not discern God’s full plan. Jesus began to show them that he was now heading towards Jerusalem to suffer many things and be killed and then be raised from the dead. Peter had a great revelation from the Father about Jesus’s identity
Jesus calls us to deny ourselves, pick up our cross and follow him. I have found that clinging to the cross and surrendering everything in my life daily really helps me. In doing so, I have found new life in Christ. How about you? Are you willing to surrender all? If you work hard to preserve your life as you now live it, you will lose your life or soul. It will slip through your fingers, like dirty water. But if you surrender it, you will find it because he will enable you to find it, by his grace.
Then Jesus issues a warning that is connected to clinging to the cross and surrendering all to him. He is returning with the glory of his Father, and he will repay everyone in accordance to their lifelong conduct. Never underestimate who God is. He is also a judge. And he is willing to give us a favorable judgment. I urge everyone to cling to the cross.
The final verse introduces the next chapter on the Mount of Transfiguration. The Son of Man will come in part in his kingdom.
I refer to a community of Bible scholars. They are excellent, but too technical for many laity. I hope I have simplified things. I also write from a Renewal perspective.
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France, R. T. The Gospel of Matthew: New International Commentary on the New Testament. (Eerdmans 2007).
Garland, David E. Reading Matthew: A Literary and Theological Commentary (Smyth and Helways, 2001).
The Greek New Testament. Fifth Revised Edition by Barbara Aland, Kurt Aland, Johannes Karavidopoulos, Carlo M. Martini, Bruce M. Metzger (United Bible Society, 2014).
Keener, Craig. A Commentary on the Gospel of Matthew. (Eerdmans 1999).
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