Theme Week – 1 God, 1 Messiah: Matthew 16
Old Testament Reading: Deuteronomy 9 & 10
Psalms Reading: Psalm 81
In Matthew 16 Jesus asked for the public’s opinions of him and the answer was a range of prophets: John the Baptist, Elijah, Jeremiah, or someone else. Considering that John and Jesus had careers that overlapped, spent time together in public, and notably behaved differently, that made little sense. Elijah had been taken up by a whirlwind before his death, leaving people to question if he had died, and a return for him was predicted in Malachi 4:5-6. But Elijah provides the special case of Elisha who had asked to serve in Elijah’s “spirit”, or rather a double-portion of it, so the return of Elijah may well suggest a return of Elijah’s “spirit” or attitude/ministry. And Jesus said that John the Baptist fulfilled the prophecy of Elijah, implying that was the case (Matthew 11:14). As for Jeremiah, who we associate with grief, perhaps Jesus gave a more solemn impression than we might guess, maybe with his attacks on religious leaders. It has also been pointed out that because of God’s instructions Jeremiah was unmarried, which could be a way for Jesus to remind people of him in a culture where almost all men married. There was even a tradition that said Jeremiah had hidden the Ark of the Covenant before Jerusalem fell to Babylon, and which expected him to return and reveal where he had put it.
Have you noticed what these expectations tell us about the capacity for some in the public to believe nonsense? Jesus had made no claim to be any of these people. His origins were known, or should have been – and here were people wanting to think he was someone else. No wonder Jesus’ death and resurrection needed many witnesses, and so much evidence. It would be too easy otherwise for people to suppose that any claims of him being alive were just the result of fools accepting a story that the wise should ignore.
But when Jesus asked who his disciples believed he was, Peter declared “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (16:16). This was new. ‘Christ’ is a title meaning anointed one (some versions use the Hebrew equivalent Messiah in place of the word Christ). Jesus was anointed, and not meaning with oil, but with what oil symbolized, the Holy Spirit Jesus had received at his baptism. And Jesus was the son of God, not normally a part of the discussions about the Christ.
Peter was blessed because he was not told this by flesh and blood (a person), but was told by God. I think Jesus meant Peter is the starting point for this awareness, which could then be spread by word of mouth, but it started by revelation. Jesus uses a play on words from Peter’s name, that sounds like the word for “stone,” and says he will build his church (his gathering of believers) on the stone of the truth Peter was given. Also the gates of “hades” will not stand against the church. That is, the believers will be able to leave hades/the realm of the grave at the resurrection. Jesus’ attention is drawn back to his death in this chapter, and to the effect it will have. The keys promised to Peter seem to involve a role for Peter’s future. If you look at Isaiah 22:22 it suggests being a steward in the household of the king.
We don’t know all of the things people thought then about the Christ, but we recognize that the Old Testament had three anointed roles which linked with roles for Christ: prophet, high priest, and king. (This idea may have been recognized very quickly in New Testament times, but we don’t find it written about until by Justin Martyr in the second century.)
Prophet – Deuteronomy 18:15-18; Acts 3:22 – God promised the nation a special prophet “like Moses” who would speak for God.
High Priest – Hebrews 2:17, etc; Psalm 110 – the High Priest had a special role of sacrifice and ministry on behalf of God’s people, which Jesus took on.
King – 2 Samuel 7, Matthew 21:5, etc. – The expectation of Christ as a king was the most well established in the people’s minds, reflected in many places. People did not expect the kind of king Jesus turned out to be, or the delay in his earthly rule. Many people in Israel expected that the Christ-King would free God’s people from their mistreatment by the nations. Not many looked for the child of David to die to accomplish salvation. Certainly none looked for God’s child to do so.
The events of Matthew 16 were a dividing point in Jesus’ ministry. Earlier the disciples may have had private guesses about Jesus’ role, but now Jesus asked the question they wanted the answer to and things came into the open. But when Jesus made other matters about his plans more plain for the disciples, things that did not seem to put glory onto his name in Peter’s eyes, Peter objected. Peter did so because his idea of the Christ didn’t match God’s idea of the Christ. It really was a revelation that had opened his mind, not his own wisdom. He still didn’t understand all that God had planned. In his reply, among other things, Jesus says that the Son of Man will come in the Father’s glory – not his own – and repay each man according to his deeds. Unless a man give up his life for Jesus’ sake, how can he get a new one? Peter didn’t get this at first, but he would get there.
Lord, help me to set my mind on your interests. Help me not to be a stumbling block to anyone around me by the way that I speak, or how I act, or how I respond to their choices. Please help me not to be held back from what I should be doing for you by hesitancy I gain from seeing the responses of others around me, either. Let me be prepared each day to lift my cross again, if I find I have set it down, and to follow Jesus. In his name, Amen.
- Have you ever thought before about the risks of some people in the first century being too willing to believe in someone coming back from the dead? When God plans He plans for the details needed by every culture – what does that mean for believers’ efforts in writing about the scriptures, and translating them?
- Do you think it hurt Jesus for Peter to oppose him as he did? Do you think it hurt Peter for Jesus to speak to Peter as he did?
- With a really difficult lesson to learn, what are some advantages to having as good a teacher as Jesus?
- What is Scripture teaching you regarding who God is? What is Scripture teaching you regarding who Jesus is?