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Bible Commentaries

James Nisbet's Church Pulpit Commentary

Matthew 16



Verses 13-16


‘When Jesus came into the coasts of Cæsarea Philippi, He asked His disciples, saying, Whom do men say that I the Son of man am?… And Simon Peter answered and said, Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.’

Matthew 16:13-16

The title ‘Son of man’ was perhaps a Messianic title. The other title, the ‘Son of God,’ was undoubtedly Messianic. Are there not signs that, for our Lord Himself and His apostles, it meant what the Church means by it to-day?

I. ‘The Son of man.’—There are three cases of the emphatic use of the title ‘Son of man,’ which postulate, if their full value is to be given them, a recognition in Jesus of something far transcending the ordinary human consciousness. They imply the consciousness (1) of power to forgive sins (St. Matthew 9:6); (2) of authority to revise a Divinely given law (St. Matthew 12:8); (3) of possessing the very spirit of God (St. Matthew 12:32). And the more than human implications of the title become more emphatic as the Gospel story proceeds. The King that was to come was to be as Daniel foretold, a Son of man (Daniel 7:1-14); one who would seek and save the lost (St. Mark 10:45); one who would serve rather than be served (St. Luke 19:10). Yet the claim was to nothing less than Divine kingship. Henceforth ye shall see the ‘Son of man’ sitting at the right hand of power, and coming in the clouds of heaven (St. Matthew 26:64).

II. ‘The Son of God.’—Consider that other title, ‘Son of God,’ which, at this critical moment of His ministry, our Lord accepted from St. Peter. To speak of the Divine King as the Divine ‘Son’ was to follow the language of the Old Testament, especially of the Second Psalm. But our Lord’s previous objection to this title, His adoption of the title ‘Son of man’ instead of it, and His acceptance of it at last from St. Peter, must have had some meaning. If Jesus were ‘Son of God’ in such a sense that ‘in Him was all the fulness of the Godhead bodily’ (Colossians 2:9); if He were Son in such a sense that ‘He who had seen the Son had seen the Father also’ (St. John 14:9)—then, to come to Jesus was to come to God. And this was the belief that grew up slowly in the hearts of the disciples as they listened to His teaching, and this was the meaning of the confession that found utterance through St. Peter’s lips. We get light on the implications of this Confession from the reply it at once drew from our Lord: ‘On this rock’ (of your confessed faith in me) ‘I will build My church.’

III. Man’s sonship through Him.—The Gospels make it plain that our Lord’s teaching was that all men might come to God through Him. If we ourselves would claim an equal sonship, we must put in evidence words of authority and works of power like to His. ‘To as many as received Him to them gave He power to become the Sons of God, even to those who believe on His name.’ ‘Nevertheless, when the Son of man cometh, shall He find faith on the earth?’ Shall we still be debating whether He was but a son of God like ourselves, or, as St. Peter confessed, ‘the Son of the living God’?

—Canon Beeching.



The Apostle gives us a threefold revelation of the Son of man.

I. The Christ of prophecy.—In that single sentence, ‘Thou art the Christ,’ St. Peter declared his belief in our Lord as the Messiah of prophecy. Christ (Anointed) is the Greek equivalent of the Hebrew title of our Lord—the Anointed One—the Messiah.

II. The Christ of history.—The second article of this creed of the Apostle far transcends the first in its flight of faith. It uplifts us to the very throne of the Eternal Godhead—‘Thou art the Son of the Living God.’ We are now face to face with the Christ of history—God manifest in the flesh.

III. The Christ of experience.—Above all, Christ in the heart is the complete creed of the Apostle. All Scripture was written ‘that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through His Name.’

Archdeacon Madden.

Verse 18


‘I will build My Church.’

Matthew 16:18

There is one part of our Lord’s work which to many is a dead letter. It is the provision He made for the continuance of His work among men. He did not aim at immediate results. Though the end of His labours must be the Cross, He would leave behind Him an organisation which should carry out His work.

I. The Church.—Not a book, not a system of philosophy, but a society, a body, a brotherhood—a body which had no documents, no endowments, but only the memories and precepts of a mysterious Person, Who was full of grace and truth. He left no documents. He employed persons to do His work. As the Father had sent Him, even so did He send them (His disciples). This not unusual, but in accordance with Divine plan. Given a cause, a society follows as a matter of course.

II. Its membership was by baptism, and to-day in the mission-field baptism is well understood to be the dividing line.

III. Its ministry.—He appointed Apostles, to whom He ‘gave authority.’

IV. Its precepts.—Officers and members (disciples and Apostles) were trained by Him.

V. Its prayer.—He gave them the Lord’s Prayer, and all must pray it.

VI. Its Eucharist.—As He had adopted baptism as the sacrament of admission, so He gave them the Eucharist as a sign and seal of union.

After His Resurrection eveything else disappears—the society with its ministry, its message, its sacraments, and its prayers alone remain. And this Society exists still, and to do the same work.

Canon Hammond.

Verses 21-23


‘From that time forth began Jesus to shew unto His disciples … those that be of men.’

Matthew 16:21-23

Christ now commenced to unveil the future more distinctly. (1) Because their faith had been fortified. (2) To guard against the growth of carnal views of His kingdom. (3) To secure voluntary and spiritually-minded disciples. God always gives faith before severe discipline, and seldom imparts faith without testing it. Notice here:

I. Peter’s conduct.—It was characterised by—

(a) Arrogant presumption. Had just been commended and rewarded by Christ. Exaltation proved too strong for his incipient faith. This always more dangerous than adversity. He interrupted the Saviour’s discourse, and assumed the position of censor; took Him aside and presumed to counsel his Divine Master. All need to pray, ‘Keep back thy servant from presumptuous sins.’

(b) Ignorance of the end of Christ’s sufferings. He would dissuade the Saviour from the very work which he had come to accomplish.

(c) Mistimed sympathy. His heart right, his judgment at fault. This sympathy was of the nature of temptation, suggesting personal ease before painful duty, therefore rejected by Christ.

II. Christ’s rebuke.—‘Get thee behind Me, Satan.’

(a) It was prompt. Without a moment’s delay He arrests Peter’s remonstrance. This one secret of success in dealing with temptation.

(b) It was severe. Not too severe. He recognises the work of Satan behind the word of Peter, and addresses the fiend through his instrument.

(c) It was instructive, first to His disciples, never to interpose a stumbling-stone in the way of His mediatorial purpose; and then to us, teaching that every stumbling-block is a ‘Satan’ (an adversary) to be cast behind us, and that those whose love is human merely and not spiritual are dangerous friends.

Prebendary Gordon Calthrop.


An offence unto Me.’ The word signifies a snare or stumbling-block in the path. The use of this expressive term in many places is very interesting (see St. Matthew 5:29; Matthew 11:6; Matthew 13:21; Matthew 13:41; Matthew 18:6-7; Matthew 26:31; Matthew 26:33; St. John 6:61; Romans 9:32-33; Romans 11:9; Romans 16:17; 1 Corinthians 1:23; 1 Corinthians 8:13; Galatians 5:11; and the passages parallel to these). Our Lord’s application of the word to St. Peter shows that his fitness to be a “foundation-stone” was not natural, but of grace; left to himself, he would become a stumbling-stone. It is remarkable that St. Peter in his 1st Epistle (Matthew 2:6-8) applies both these terms to Christ Himself. He is the chosen foundation-stone (Isaiah 28:16), made the “head of the corner,” although “rejected” by the “builders”; and yet He is a “stumbling-stone” (Isaiah 8:14) to those who believe not.’

Verse 24


‘Let him deny himself.’

Matthew 16:24

I. Denial has the threefold sense of the refusal to acknowledge acquaintance or relationship, the rejection of the claim of authority, the repudiation of obedience to commands.

II. Self-denial therefore means the rejection of interference, authority, or rule by man’s self, and the substitution of Christ in the life.

III. It is a misuse of the phrase, to confound the denying of something to oneself with the denying of self.

IV. Many deny things to themselves, who never deny self.

V. Only there does self-denial exist, where Christ takes the place of self for all life’s decisions.

VI. The example of Christ is a perfect illustration of this true self-denial.

VII. It implies a definite act and decision, as introductory to a life of consecration and discipleship.

—The Rev. Hubert Brooke.

Verse 25


‘Whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for My sake shall find it.’

Matthew 16:25

In the parallel passage of St. Mark 8:35, there is a slight addition: ‘for My sake and the Gospel’s’; and both there and in St. Luke 9:24, for ‘find it,’ the closing words are ‘save it.’ The same statement occurs in Matthew 10:39, and is abbreviated in St. Luke 14:26 into the short phrase: ‘hate … yea, and his own life also.’

I. Service not salvation.—The topic before us is not the saving or losing of the soul, but the life reckoned as gained or lost, according as it is yielded up to the Master’s service, or withheld from Him and kept for selfish ends. A life ‘lost,’ as the world names it, is really saved, gained and kept; whilst the life spent for worldly advantages, earthly profit, and selfish ends counts but as pure loss, and is worth nothing in His sight.

II. Christ as example.—Our Lord’s use of the idea of losing and keeping the life, in St. John 7:24-25, applies it to Himself and His own conduct, and once more makes Him the example for disciples to follow.

III. The yielded life.—The condition for consecration and discipleship, which calls for a practical surrender of the whole life, and a willingness to let it be lost to all personal ends for Christ’s sake, forms in fact the summary and climax of everything. The whole being is put under contribution and nothing is left unclaimed by Christ.

—The Rev. Hubert Brooke.


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Bibliography Information
Nisbet, James. "Commentary on Matthew 16:4". Church Pulpit Commentary. 1876.

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