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Bible Commentaries

F. B. Hole's Old and New Testament Commentary

Matthew 16



Verses 1-28

THE PHARISEES NOW renewed their attack, combining with their ancient foes, the Sadducees, for this purpose. The “sign from heaven” was merely a catch, being just the kind of thing that the Sadducees, with their materialistic notions, would never accept. In reply the Lord pointed out that they were quite good judges of material things seen in the face of the sky, but quite blind to the “signs of the times,” which need spiritual discernment for their apprehension. Being “wicked and adulterous” they had no spiritual perception, and hence such signs as God gives were no use to them. As He had said before (Matthew 12:39), there remained “the sign of the Prophet Jonas,” namely, His own death and resurrection. With that word He left them. When that great sign took place they used all their craft and their money in an effort to nullify it; as we see in the last chapter of this Gospel.

From these men the Lord turned to His disciples with words of warning. They were to beware of their “leaven.” This warning the disciples took in a material sense at first, their misunderstanding being helped on by their omission to take bread. Yet they should not have had any thought on that score in the light of the feeding of the five thousand and the four thousand. At last they understood that by “leaven” the Lord meant “doctrine.” It is evident therefore that though the true disciple could never be either Pharisee or Sadducee, he may be leavened by their doctrines—by either or by both.

The leaven of the Pharisee was that type of religious hypocrisy that lays all the stress on things outward and ceremonial. The leaven of the Sadducee was pride of intellect which elevates human reason into the place of sole judge, and waves aside God’s revelation and faith. How much Christendom is leavened by both these things is sadly apparent today. Ritualism is rampant on the one hand, and rationalism, or “modernism,” on the other, and not infrequently both are blended and the rationalistic ritualist is the product. The Lord’s warning against them is supplemented by the Apostle Paul in Colossians 2:1-23. In verse Matthew 16:8 of that chapter we find his warning against rationalism, and in verses Matthew 16:16, Matthew 16:18, Matthew 16:20-22, against ritualism in various forms, and we are shown how these things divert us from Christ and prevent us from “holding the Head.”

It is significant that in our chapter the Lord’s warning against both comes just before the record of His visit to Caesarea Philippi, and of the question He raised with His disciples there. In this place He was at the extreme northward limit of the land, and as far away from the haunts of these men as possible. Who was He? That was the supreme question. The answers given by the people were various and confused, and they were not sufficiently interested to make sober enquiry. But appealing more directly to His disciples Peter was able, as taught of God, to give a clear reply, which brought to light the Rock on which the church was to be built. Colossians 2:1-23 show us how destructive is the leaven, both of the Pharisee and the Sadducee, upon the church’s position and faith. In Matthew 16:1-28 we see how the Lord warned His disciples against both, before making the first announcement of the church that He was going to build.

Simon Peter was a blessed man. From God Himself in heaven, whom Jesus spoke of as “My Father,” there had reached him a revelation which never could have come to him from man. His eyes had been opened to see in Jesus the Christ. That was His official position as God’s Anointed One. But who was this Anointed One? Peter discerned that He was “the Son of the living God.” This was truly a striking confession. God is the living God, infinitely above the power of death. Jesus is the Son in the eternal Godhead, equally above all the power of death. This thing had evidently come to Peter as in a flash by Divine revelation. He was not yet established in the full understanding of it, as we see half a dozen verses lower down. Yet he saw it was so, and he confessed it.

Do we confess this too? And do we really understand its significance? If we do, we have indeed found an impregnable Rock, and like Peter we are blessed indeed.

In His word to Peter, recorded in verse Matthew 16:18, the Lord confirmed to him the name that He had given him at their first meeting, as recorded in John 1:42, and also disclosed something more of its significance. The meaning of “Peter” is “stone,” but what is its significance? This—that it connected him with the church which Christ, the Son of the living God, was about to build. Thus in Christ Himself lay the “Rock,” on which the church is founded. Peter was no rock. Indeed he seems to have been the most impulsive and easily moved of the disciples—see Galatians 2:11-13. He was only a stone, and there is no excuse for the error of confounding him and the Rock, for in His use of words the Lord signalized the distinction, saying, “Thou art Petros, and upon this petra I will build My church.”

The building of the church was still in the future, for the Rock was not fully disclosed until the Son of the living God had proved His triumph through death and resurrection, and gone up on high. Then began Christ’s ecclesia, or, “called-out company;” and here was found one of the stones that was then to be built up upon the Rock. In his First Epistle Peter shows us that this is not something confined exclusively to himself, for all who come to the Living Stone are living stones to be built also on that foundation.

In this great pronouncement the Lord spoke of His church as being His own handiwork, against which all adverse wisdom and power could not prevail. What is done in the power of Divine life nothing can touch. Other scriptures speak of the church as the community professing allegiance to Christ, brought into being through the labours of those who take the place of servants of God. On that community failure was stamped from the outset, and it merges into the kingdom of heaven, of which we learned so much in Matthew 13:1-58, and which the Lord mentions in verse Matthew 16:19 of our chapter. The keys of that kingdom were given to Peter—not the keys of the church.

All who profess allegiance to the King are in the kingdom of heaven, and Peter was given a special administrative place in connection with that. We see him in the act of “loosing” as regards Jews in Acts 2:37-40, and as regards Gentiles in Acts 10:44-48; and in the act of “binding” in Acts 8:20-23. And in these cases clearly his acts were ratified in heaven. But Simon the sorcerer, though he had been baptized as a professed subject of the kingdom, had never been built by the Lord into His church.

The kingdom of heaven had been revealed in Old Testament scripture, though its present mysterious form had not. On the other hand nothing had been said as to the church, and this word of Jesus was a preliminary disclosure of it. Having made the announcement He at once withdrew the testimony which His disciples had been giving as to His being the Christ, come on earth to confirm the promises made unto the fathers (Romans 15:8). His rejection was certain and His death impending. Only thus would there be laid the proper basis for the fulfilment of the promises to Israel, or the blessing of Gentiles so that they might glorify God for His mercy in bringing them into the church. Hence from this point Jesus turned the minds of His disciples to His death and resurrection—the grand climax of His earthly story. Christ in resurrection glory, rather than Christ in earthly glory, was the goal before them.

Here Peter displays his frailty and un-rock-like character, and comes under rebuke. It is striking how in these few verses we see him Divinely illuminated, then administratively privileged and then speaking in a way which reminded our Lord of Satan and fallen men. Such was Peter, and we are no better than he. His mind and the minds of the other disciples were set upon blessings to be realized upon earth. The Lord knew this and proceeded to tell them how all would be altered for them by His death: they too would have death borne in upon them and lose their lives in this world.

This saying of our Lord (verse Matthew 16:25) occurs no less than six times in the four Gospels, allowing for slight variations in the wording: twice in this Gospel, twice in Luke, and once in both Mark and John. The six occurrences cover, we believe, four different occasions. So it was evidently a saying often upon the lips of Jesus; and this testifies to its great importance. It cuts across the grain with every one of us, and yet it puts in a nutshell a great principle of spiritual life which persists all through the period of His rejection and absence from the world. Only when He comes again will saints enjoy life on earth in any full and proper sense. To go in for gaining the world now is to lose the soul.

Having shown His disciples what lay before Himself, and before them in the more immediate future, He went on to speak of His coming in glory. He will then take the kingdom from His Father and the time of reward will have arrived, and some of them were to have the privilege of seeing the kingdom in miniature as a sample of what was coming. This was an expression of His thoughtful grace towards them, lest they should be utterly discouraged by what He had just been telling them.


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Bibliography Information
Hole, Frank Binford. "Commentary on Matthew 16:4". "F. B. Hole's Old and New Testament Commentary". 1947.

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