Matthew 16

Matthew 16: Who Do You Say I Am?

The questions we must all answer is the one Jesus asks his disciples in today’s lesson: Who do you say I am?   Jesus is about to confirm who he is to his disciples as well as tell them what he is going to do.  He is now beginning the last phase of his ministry and is headed  to Jerusalem to suffer many things of the elders, chief priests and scribes and be killed and raised again on the third day.

The questions today for each of us are: 1.  Who do  you say Jesus is?   2. Do you know what Jesus did?  We need to know these things and believe them in order to be saved. Paul would write:  If you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. ( Romans 10:9)

At the end of chapter 15, Jesus once again healed many as we read the people were amazed when they saw : ‘the mute speaking, the crippled made well, the lame walking, and the blind seeing. And they praised the God of Israel.” ( Matthew 15: 31)

Jesus also once again fed the multitude with meager resources- 7 loaves and a few  fish with  seven baskets left over. The number was 4000 men, not counting women and children.  As we come to Matthew 16, the Lord is beginning to turn toward Jerusalem where he will face arrest and crucifixion.  As we come to another confrontation with the Pharisees and Sadducees, keep in mind the many miracles and signs Jesus has already performed.

“The Pharisees and Sadducees came to Jesus and tested him by asking him to show them a sign from heaven.” ( Matthew 16:1)   Jesus has already performed many signs and miracles in their presence. Many were fulfillment of prophecies confirming Jesus was who he said he was.  They demand a sign from heaven.   In John 6, we read a verse that describes their attitude: “ What miraculous sign then will you give us that we may see it and believe? What will you do? Our forefathers ate the manna in the desert: as it is written: ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’  They wanted Jesus to perform a sign from heaven, like the manna that fell from heaven. Like the voice that came down from Mount Sinai in the thunder and lightning.

Yet when Jesus healed a blind, mute man in their presence in Matthew 12, to what and whom did they attribute the source of the miracle?  They accused Jesus of performing these miracles and signs by the power of Beelzebub, the prince of demons.  Satan is called the ‘prince of the power of the air’.  If Jesus performed a miracle , a sign from heaven they would attribute his power as coming from the prince of power of the air.

Jesus’s reply reveals they were overlooking the signs he had already given. He says: “ You know how to interpret the appearance of the sky, but you cannot interpret the signs of the times.  The Jews demanded a miraculous sign. Jesus once again says the sign they will have is the sign of Jonah. Earlier in Matthew 12, Jesus told them: “ For as Jonah, was three days and nights in the belly of the fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.”  He told them then- one greater than Jonah is here now.  The cross was foolishness to these Pharisees and Sadducees.  So close to the truth, the Truth was standing before them. In one the Lord’s most memorable miracles , Jesus raised  Lazarus from the dead after four days in the tomb.

The period of four days was significant. It was significant for it was a belief of the Jews that the spirit departed the body of the deceased after four days. When Jesus raised Lazarus with just the command of his voice,  ( notice Jesus called out in a loud voice) to come forth from the grave and Lazarus did.  We know this is the same voice from the One who is called the Word of God who spoke the  heavens and the earth into existence. Who said- let there be light and there was light.    We are told the results:  “ Therefore many of the Jews who had come to visit Mary,and had seen what the Lord did, put their faith in Him.”  That is always one response. Yet here is the other:  “ But some of them went to the Pharisees and told them what Jesus had done. Then the chief priests and the Pharisees called a meeting of the Sanhedrin. The plot to kill Jesus was coming to a head. (John 11)

“ Even after Jesus had done all these miraculous signs in their presence, they still would not believe in Him. This was to fulfill the word of Isaiah the prophet: ‘ Lord ,who has believed our message and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed? He has blinded the eyes and deadened the hearts so they can neither see with their eyes nor understand with their heart- nor turn and be healed.” ( John 12/ Isaiah)

In Matthew 16, we read an ominous verse:  “ Jesus then left them and went away.” Jesus continues to turn from the leaders of Jerusalem to the common people. Later upon entering Jerusalem for the last time, Jesus wept over them saying: “ If you, even you, had only known this day what would bring you peace- but now it is hidden from your eyes.” ( Luke 19) The Lord takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked.

Jesus and his disciples depart and go across the lake, but the disciples forgot the  7 baskets of bread left over from the feeding of the 4,000.  So with this was on the minds of the disciples when Jesus said:  “ Be on guard against the leaven of the Pharisees and Saducees.” ( Take heed and beware—(KJV)   The disciples discuss this among themselves and the ask Jesus – ‘ is it because we didn’t bring any bread?’

The disciples have been with the Lord Jesus for some time; yet, they still find themselves not understanding what he says.  They seem to suffer something we all do at times- spiritual amnesia.  Back in chapter 15, after feeding the 4000 men with 7 loaves and some fish- they collected 7 basketfuls of leftovers.  The disciples had left them behind and thought now Jesus’ reference was to their forgetting to bring the leftovers.   He has taught them leaven is always a principle of evil, never good. In addition , he has told them to take heed and beware- words of caution about something harmful.  Jesus rebukes them for their lack of faith and understanding this was not about forgetting the bread;  but about the misleading and dangerous false teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees. The basketfuls of leftovers from the miracle were remembrances of the blessings of the Lord. How can these men be so short-sighted, so forgetful of what the Lord has done and promised.  Like their forefathers who saw God use the staff of Moses to divide the Red Sea so they could walk over on dry land and then close the sea on their enemy, the Egyptian army, these men had seen the Lord Jesus do miracle after miracle.  Yet time after time the children of Israel forgot what the God had done and complained bitterly about their fate. Yet we are told in God’s Word, we have been blessed with every spiritual blessing in heaven in Christ Jesus.  We find ourselves in situations and complain, sometimes bitterly, about what God has not done for us lately.  How could Jesus not be able to supply their needs, when they had so often seen him do it in ways that revealed he could furnish them with whatever was necessary.  Can we not see the same truth for ourselves?  Jesus tells them he is talking about the yeast  of the Pharisees and Sadducees’  false teaching.

Thus  another lesson from the Master Teacher in faith which leads to two questions he will now ask his students. “ Who do the people say I am? And they replied some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others Jeremiah and the other prophets.”

This is still the question and debate today isn’t it?  Who do people say Jesus is?  And the answers are as varied today as they were then.  The opinions range from a mythical figure to a prophet, a teacher, philosopher, a founder of a major religion and a good man.  However if Jesus is not who he says he is – the foundation of the church caves in for it is built upon shifting sand, not solid rock.

This is why this next statement is so critical. Jesus asks the disciples: ‘ Who do you say I am? Peter says: “ You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.”  If you take away this truth- that He is the Christ, the Son of the Living God, Christianity is based on a lie.  That is why the resurrection is the critical piece- for as Paul wrote in I Cor. 15:  “ If Christ be not risen, our faith is in vain.”  The resurrection proves He is who He says He is. And if Jesus is who He says He is- then He can do what He says He can do. Furthermore- we are as believers- who he says we are and can do what he says we can do. And all of a sudden- the Word of God takes on a whole new meaning to us- and it becomes active and alive in our lives.

Are we forgetful sometimes like the disciples?  Of course we are. We look at their lack of faith when they had seen so much and wonder how could they ever doubt, be afraid of worried. Yet hardly a week goes by we do not experience the same forgetfulness.

Jesus tells Peter: “ Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father in heaven. And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock, I will build my church, and the gates of hades will not overcome it ( prevail against it,KJV). I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” Then he warned his disciple not to tell anyone that he was the Christ. This is the first time the word, church, is used in the NT.

Who or what is the ‘ rock’ upon which the church is built?  First let us note who revealed this to Peter- our Heavenly Father.  Only the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of God can make Christ known to us. Lets’ ask Peter who he understood the rock/stone was? For some believe it was Peter who was the rock upon which the church was built.  Peter clears it up for us:  “ As you come to Him, the Living Stone- rejected by men but chosen by God and precious to Him- you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. For in Scripture it says: ‘ See, I lay a stone in Zion, chosen and precious cornerstone and the one who trusts in Him will never be put to shame.’ Now to you who believe, the stone is precious. But to those who do not believe , the stone the builders reject has become the capstone.” ( I Peter 2)  Paul would certainly agree as he writes in I Cor. 3:11: “ For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ.”

Notice who is the builder of the church:  ‘ I will build my church..”  Jesus is the builder, we are the building. The church was not yet in the process of building for the foundation had not yet been laid. But Jesus is preparing the disciples for what is coming and is necessary to build the church.   Jesus says the gates of hell- interpreted the gate of hades in the NIV, which is a more accurate meaning for hades refers to death. Christ with his resurrection not only confirmed he is who he says he is- but it also was victory over death. Death, the enemy was swallowed  up in victory. The gates of death will not prevail against the church.

The Keys to the Kingdom.

What are these keys?  Do I have access to them?  What are they for?  Why does the Lord use this metaphor?  All good questions.  Keys are used to open doors, to start a car’s powerful engine. Keys represent authority- if I give you the key to my house, you have the authority to enter it and likewise if I give you the key to my car- you have the authority to use it.  Keys are used to describe the means by which one obtains something,i.e., the keys to success, the keys to  a happy marriage, keys to good management.   Jesus says : “ I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven.”  These keys, notice they are plural, are the keys to open the kingdom of heaven. The kingdom of heaven is wherever Christ rules as King.  The Jews at  the time of Christ’ crucifixion were adamant in their confession-  ‘ we have no king, but Caesar!’ Let’s look at some references to the word and use of key in the Bible. “ I will place on his shoulder the key to the house of David, what he opens no one can shut, and what he shuts no one can open.” Then connect that verse to the verse found in Revelation 3:7: “ These are  the words of Him who is holy and true, who holds the key of David. What he opens no one can shut and what he shuts no one can open.”

Listen to these condemning words of the Lord Jesus in Matthew 23:13 : “ Woe to you teachers of the law and the Pharisees , you hypocrites! You shut the kingdom of heaven in men’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying.:

And again to Nicodemus in John 3- “ I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of heaven unless he is born of water and the Spirit.  You must be born again.”

And how is one born again?  “For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring Word of God.”

The keys to the kingdom of heaven are the Word of God. The binding and loosing referred to here refer to the function of keys to open or lock doors.  Whatever is bound on earth is bound in heaven, simply means whatever we bind on earth has already been bound in heaven. In other words, what is shut by God as the means to obtaining salvation- entrance to the kingdom of heaven there is only one key- the Word of God, who became flesh and dwelt among us. Whatever is loosed on earth- that is opened as the way to enter the kingdom has been opened- already approved  in heaven. For Jesus, is the Way, the Truth and the Life- no man comes to the Father  except by Him.  He is the key- the Word of God. His words are spirit and life.

We preach the Gospel for it opens the door to the Kingdom of Heaven. Those who respond in faith and repentance are allowed access to the Kingdom of Heaven and all its possessions; Those who continue to harden their hearts  and reject the Gospel of God’s saving grace are shut out of the Kingdom.

“ Ask and it shall be given, seek and you shall find, knock and  the door  will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he, who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened.” Matthew 7.

Now do you see why Paul said he is not ashamed of the Gospel?  “Because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes; first for the Jew, then for the Gentile.  For in the Gospel a righteousness from God is revealed , a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written:  the just shall live by faith.” ( Romans 1)

Like the key to your car gives you access to the power of 250 horses underneath the hood of the car, the Gospel is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes. It is  available to everyone who believes.  The Word of God is powerful and alive and sharper than a two edged sword. The Word of God gives us access to God in prayer- it opens the throne room of grace in heaven. The Word of God is hid, stored in our heart that we might not sin against God. The Word of God is our guide – a lamp unto our feet and a light upon our path.  It provides us with everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of Him.

We as believers have been given these keys- the Word of God, Prayer, Spiritual Disciplines, and everything we need for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training that the man( and woman) of God might be thoroughly equipped for every good work.(2 Timothy 5)

We can bind on earth- whatever has already been bound in heaven; and we can loose on earth whatever has already been loosed in heaven. And we have his Word to tell us what has been bound and loosed.

The problem is- some of us have lost our keys, misplaced them. To lose your car keys is probably also to lose your house keys, thus losing access to the power of your automobile and the comfort and shelter of your home.

How much more devastating to lose or misplace the keys to the kingdom.

The Lord Jesus said he would build his church on this rock. This profession of faith that He is who he says he is and can do what he says he can do. We are not only to build his church on this cornerstone- the One who is called the Word of God, the Way, the Truth and the Life, we are to build our lives upon this rock.

“ Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house upon the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against the house, yet it did not fall because it had its foundation on the rock. But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house upon the sand. The rain came, the streams rose and the winds blew and beat against the house, and it fell with a great crash.” (Matthew 7)

Do you see what stands the tests of time? The Word of God, the Keys to the Kingdom of Heaven.

Copyright © 2010 Linda Benthal
Last modified: 08/12/14