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Matthew 16:17

Adam Clarke
Bible Commentary

Blessed art thou, Simon Bar-jona - Or Simon, son of Jonah; so Bar-jonah should be translated, and so it is rendered by our Lord, John 1:42. Flesh and blood - i.e. Man; - no human being hath revealed this; and though the text is literal enough, yet every body should know that this is a Hebrew periphrasis for man; and the literal translation of it here, and in Galatians 1:16, has misled thousands, who suppose that flesh and blood signify carnal reason, as it is termed, or the unregenerate principle in man. Is it not evident, from our Lord's observation, that it requires an express revelation of God in a man's soul, to give him a saving acquaintance with Jesus Christ; and that not even the miracles of our Lord, wrought before the eyes, will effect this? The darkness must be removed from the heart by the Holy Spirit, before a man can become wise unto salvation.

Albert Barnes
Notes on the Whole Bible
Verses 13-20

See also Mark 8:27-29, and Luke 9:18-20.

Cesarea Philippi - There were two cities in Judea called Caesarea. One was situated on the borders of the Mediterranean (See the notes at Acts 8:40), and the other was the one mentioned here. This city was greatly enlarged and ornamented by Philip the tetrarch, son of Herod, and called Caesarea in honor of the Roman emperor, Tiberius Caesar. To distinguish it from the other Caesarea the name of Philip was added to it, and it was called Caesarea Philippi, or Caesarea of Philippi. It was situated in the boundaries of the tribe of Naphtali, at the foot of Mount Hermon. It is now called Panias or Banias, and contains (circa 1880‘s) about 200 houses, and is inhabited chiefly by Turks. The word “coasts” here now usually applied to land in the vicinity of the sea - means “borders” or “regions.” He came into the part of the country which appertained to Cesarea Philippi. He was passing northward from the region of Bethsaida, on the coasts of Magdala Matthew 15:39, where the transactions recorded in the previous verses had occurred.

When Jesus came - The original is, “when Jesus was coming.” Mark says Mark 8:27 that this conversation took place when they were in the way, and this idea should have been retained in translating Matthew. While in the way, Jesus took occasion to call their attention “to the truth that he was the Messiah.” This truth it was of much consequence that they should fully believe and understand; and it was important, therefore, that he should often learn their views, to establish them if right, and correct them if wrong. He began, therefore, by inquiring what was the common report respecting him.

Whom do men say … - This passage has been variously rendered. Some have translated it, “Whom do men say that I am? the Son of man?” Others, “Whom do men say that I am - I, who am the Son of man - i. e., the Messiah?” The meaning is nearly the same. He wished to obtain the sentiments of the people respecting himself.

Matthew 16:14

And they said … - See the notes at Matthew 11:14. They supposed that he might be John the Baptist, as Herod did, risen from the dead. See Matthew 14:2. He performed many miracles, and strongly resembled John in his manner of life, and in the doctrines which he taught.

Matthew 16:16

And Simon Peter answered … - Peter, expressing the views of the apostles, with characteristic forwardness answered the question proposed to them by Jesus: “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.”

The Christ - The Messiah, the “Anointed” of God. See the notes at Matthew 1:1.

The Son - That is, the Son by way of eminence - in a special sense. See the notes at Matthew 1:17. This appellation was understood as implying divinity, John 10:29-36.

Of the living God - The term “living” was given to the true God to distinguish him from idols, that are dead, or lifeless blocks and stones. He is also the Source of life, temporal, spiritual, and eternal. The word “living” is often given to him in the Old Testament, Joshua 3:10; 1 Samuel 17:26, 1 Samuel 17:36; Jeremiah 10:9-10, etc. In this noble confession Peter expressed the full belief of himself and of his brethren that he was the long-expected Messiah. Other people had very different opinions of him, but they were satisfied, and were not ashamed to confess it.

Matthew 16:17

And Jesus answered, Blessed art thou … - Simon Bar-jona is the same as Simon son of Jona. Bar is a Syriac word signifying son. The father of Peter, therefore, was Jona, or Jonas, John 1:42; John 21:16-17.

Blessed - That is, happy, honored, evincing a proper spirit, and entitled to the approbation of God.

For flesh and blood - This phrase usually signifies man (see Galatians 1:16; Ephesians 6:12), and it has been commonly supposed that Jesus meant to say that man had not revealed it, but he seems rather to have referred to himself. “This truth you have not learned from my lowly appearance, from my human nature, from my apparent rank and standing in the world. You, Jews, were expecting to know the Messiah by his external splendor; his pomp and power as a man; but you have not learned me in this manner. I have shown no such indication of my Messiahship. Flesh and blood have not shown it. In spite of my appearance, my lowly state - my lack of resemblance to what you have expected, you have learned it as from God.” They had been taught this by Jesus‘ miracles, his instructions, and by the direct teachings of God upon their minds. To “reveal” is to make known, or communicate something that was unknown or secret.

Matthew 16:18

And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter - The word “Peter,” in Greek, means “a rock.” It was given to Simon by Christ when he called him to be a disciple, John 1:42

Cephas is a Syriac word, meaning the same as Peter - a rock, or stone. The meaning of this phrase may be thus expressed: “Thou, in saying that I am the Son of God, hast called me by a name expressive of my true character. I, also, have given to thee a name expressive of your character. I have called you Peter, a rock, denoting firmness, solidity, stability, and your confession has shown that the name is appropriate. I see that you are worthy of the name, and will be a distinguished support of my religion.”

And upon this rock … - This passage has given rise to many different interpretations. Some have supposed that the word “rock” refers to Peter‘s confession, and that Jesus meant to say, upon this rock, this truth that thou hast confessed, that I am the Messiah and upon confessions of this from all believers, I will build my church. Confessions like this shall be the test of piety, and in such confessions shall my church stand amid the flames of persecution, the fury of the gates of hell. Others have thought that Jesus referred to himself. Christ is called a rock, Isaiah 28:16; 1 Peter 2:8. And it has been thought that he turned from Peter to himself, and said, “Upon this rock, this truth that I am the Messiah - upon myself as the Messiah, I will build my church.” Both these interpretations, though plausible, seem forced upon the passage to avoid the main difficulty in it. Another interpretation is, that the word “rock” refers to Peter himself.

This is the obvious meaning of the passage; and had it not been that the Church of Rome has abused it, and applied it to what was never intended, no other interpretation would have been sought for. “Thou art a rock. Thou hast shown thyself firm, and suitable for the work of laying the foundation of the church. Upon thee will I build it. Thou shalt be highly honored; thou shalt be first in making known the gospel to both Jews and Gentiles.” This was accomplished. See Galatians 2:9. But Christ did not mean, as the Roman Catholics say he did, to exalt Peter to supreme authority above all the other apostles, or to say that he was the only one upon whom he would rear his church. See Galatians 2:11, where Paul withstood Peter to his face, because he was to be blamed - a thing which could not have happened if Christ (as the Roman Catholics say) meant that Peter was absolute and infallible. More than all, it is not said here, or anywhere else in the Bible, that Peter would have infallible successors who would be the vicegerents of Christ and the head of the church. The whole meaning of the passage is this: “I will make you the honored instrument of making known my gospel first to Jews and Gentiles, and I will make you a firm and distinguished preacher in building my church.”

Will build my church - This refers to the custom of building in Judea upon a rock or other very firm foundation. See the notes at Matthew 7:24. The word “church” literally means “those called out,” and often means an assembly or congregation. See Acts 19:32, Greek; Acts 7:38. It is applied to Christians as being “called out” from the world. It means sometimes the whole body of believers, Ephesians 1:22; 1 Corinthians 10:32. This is its meaning in this place. It means, also, a particular society of believers worshipping in one place, Acts 8:1; Acts 9:31; 1 Corinthians 1:2, etc.; sometimes, also, a society in a single house, as Romans 16:5. In common language it means the church visible - i. e., all who profess religion; or invisible, i. e., all who are real Christians, professors or not.

And the gates of hell … - Ancient cities were surrounded by walls. In the gates by which they were entered were the principal places for holding courts, transacting business, and deliberating on public matters. See the notes at Matthew 7:13. Compare the notes at Job 29:7. See also Deuteronomy 22:4; 1 Samuel 4:18; Jeremiah 36:10; Genesis 19:1; Psalm 69:12; Psalm 9:14; Proverbs 1:21. The word “gates,” therefore, is used for counsels, designs, machinations, evil purposes.

“Hell” means, here, the place of departed spirits, particularly evil spirits; and the meaning of the passage is, that all the plots, stratagems, and machinations of the enemies of the church would not be able to overcome it a promise that has been remarkably fulfilled.

Matthew 16:19

And I will give unto thee … - A key is an instrument for opening a door.

He that is in possession of it has the power of access, and has a general care of a house. Hence, in the Bible, a key is used as a symbol of superintendence an emblem of power and authority. See the Isaiah 22:22 note; Revelation 1:18; Revelation 3:7 notes. The kingdom of heaven here means, doubtless, the church on earth. See the notes at Matthew 3:2. When the Saviour says, therefore, he will give to Peter the keys of the kingdom of heaven, he means that he will make him the instrument of opening the door of faith to the world the first to preach the gospel to both Jews and Gentiles. This was done, Matthew 18:18. The only pre-eminence, then, that Peter had was the honor of first opening the doors of the gospel to the world.

Whatsoever thou shalt bind … - The phrase “to bind” and “to loose” was often used by the Jews. It meant to prohibit and to permit. To bind a thing was to forbid it; to loose it, to allow it to be done. Thus, they said about gathering wood on the Sabbath day, “The school of Shammei binds it” - i. e., forbids it; “the school of Hillel looses it” - i. e., allows it. When Jesus gave this power to the apostles, he meant that whatsoever they forbade in the church should have divine authority; whatever they permitted, or commanded, should also have divine authority - that is, should be bound or loosed in heaven, or meet the approbation of God. They were to be guided infallibly in the organization of the church:

1.by the teaching of Christ, and,

2.by the teaching of the Holy Spirit.

This does not refer to persons, but to things - “whatsoever,” not whosoever. It refers to rites and ceremonies in the church. Such of the Jewish customs as they should forbid were to be forbidden, and such as they thought proper to permit were to be allowed. Such rites as they should appoint in the church were to have the force of divine authority. Accordingly, they commanded the Gentile converts to “abstain from pollutions of idols, and from fornication, and from things strangled, and from blood” Acts 15:20; and, in general, they organized the church, and directed what was to be observed and what was to be avoided. The rules laid down by them in the Acts of the Apostles and in the Epistles, in connection with the teachings of the Saviour as recorded in the evangelists, constitute the only law binding on Christians in regard to the order of the church, and the rites and ceremonies to be observed in it.

Matthew 16:20

Then charged … - That is, he commanded them.

Mark 8:30 and Luke Luke 9:21 say (in Greek) that he strictly or severely charged them. He laid emphasis on it, as a matter of much importance. The reason of this seems to be that his time had not fully come; that he was not willing to rouse the Jewish malice, and to endanger his life, by having it proclaimed that he was the Messiah. The word “Jesus” is wanting in many manuscripts, and should probably be omitted: “Then he charged them strictly to tell no man that he was the Christ or Messiah.”

Matthew Henry
Concise Bible Commentary
Peter, for himself and his brethren, said that they were assured of our Lord's being the promised Messiah, the Son of the living God. This showed that they believed Jesus to be more than man. Our Lord declared Peter to be blessed, as the teaching of God made him differ from his unbelieving countrymen. Christ added that he had named him Peter, in allusion to his stability or firmness in professing the truth. The word translated "rock," is not the same word as Peter, but is of a similar meaning. Nothing can be more wrong than to suppose that Christ meant the person of Peter was the rock. Without doubt Christ himself is the Rock, the tried foundation of the church; and woe to him that attempts to lay any other! Peter's confession is this rock as to doctrine. If Jesus be not the Christ, those that own him are not of the church, but deceivers and deceived. Our Lord next declared the authority with which Peter would be invested. He spoke in the name of his brethren, and this related to them as well as to him. They had no certain knowledge of the characters of men, and were liable to mistakes and sins in their own conduct; but they were kept from error in stating the way of acceptance and salvation, the rule of obedience, the believer's character and experience, and the final doom of unbelievers and hypocrites. In such matters their decision was right, and it was confirmed in heaven. But all pretensions of any man, either to absolve or retain men's sins, are blasphemous and absurd. None can forgive sins but God only. And this binding and loosing, in the common language of the Jews, signified to forbid and to allow, or to teach what is lawful or unlawful.
Ellen G. White
The Desire of Ages, 411-4

Jesus and His disciples had now come into one of the towns about Caesarea Philippi. They were beyond the limits of Galilee, in a region where idolatry prevailed. Here the disciples were withdrawn from the controlling influence of Judaism, and brought into closer contact with the heathen worship. Around them were represented forms of superstition that existed in all parts of the world. Jesus desired that a view of these things might lead them to feel their responsibility to the heathen. During His stay in this region, He endeavored to withdraw from teaching the people, and to devote Himself more fully to His disciples. DA 411.1

He was about to tell them of the suffering that awaited Him. But first He went away alone, and prayed that their hearts might be prepared to receive His words. Upon joining them, He did not at once communicate that which He desired to impart. Before doing this, He gave them an opportunity of confessing their faith in Him that they might be strengthened for the coming trial. He asked, “Whom do men say that I the Son of man am?” DA 411.2

Sadly the disciples were forced to acknowledge that Israel had failed to recognize their Messiah. Some indeed, when they saw His miracles, had declared Him to be the Son of David. The multitudes that had been fed at Bethsaida had desired to proclaim Him king of Israel. Many were ready to accept Him as a prophet; but they did not believe Him to be the Messiah. DA 411.3

Jesus now put a second question, relating to the disciples themselves: “But whom say ye that I am?” Peter answered, “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.” DA 411.4

From the first, Peter had believed Jesus to be the Messiah. Many others who had been convicted by the preaching of John the Baptist, and had accepted Christ, began to doubt as to John's mission when he was imprisoned and put to death; and they now doubted that Jesus was the Messiah, for whom they had looked so long. Many of the disciples who had ardently expected Jesus to take His place on David's throne left Him when they perceived that He had no such intention. But Peter and his companions turned not from their allegiance. The vacillating course of those who praised yesterday and condemned today did not destroy the faith of the true follower of the Saviour. Peter declared, “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.” He waited not for kingly honors to crown his Lord, but accepted Him in His humiliation. DA 411.5

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Ellen G. White
The Upward Look, 58.6

Christ's divinity is to be steadfastly maintained. When the Saviour asked His disciples the question, “Whom say ye that I am?” Peter answered, “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:15, 16). Said Christ, “Upon this rock,” not on Peter, but on the Son of God, “I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Verse 18). UL 58.6

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