Normally, the Pharisees and Sadducees were at odds, and had little to do with each other. But Jesus was perceived by both groups as a threat to their power. That is why they came together in verse one asking him for a sign – in order to try to get something to use against him as the Pharisees and scribes had done earlier. Jesus points out their ability to understand meteorological signs (verse 2), but they are unable to understand the signs that He has done (because they choose not to). In verse 4, he says that no sign will be given except the sign of Jonah (a repeat of His earlier statement in the encounter in Matthew 12:38-40). He had told them of His coming death and resurrection already, but they had not understood that either.
In verse 5, the disciples caught up with Him (Jesus had gone over on the boat without them after feeding the four thousand in chapter 15) and realized they had forgotten to bring any bread. So when He tells them to “beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees,” they still have their minds on bread; and they do not properly understand the statement. Jesus is using the word “leaven” in the sense of something that influences another – in this case, the corrupt doctrine and hypocrisy of the Pharisees and Sadducees. It is their (the disciples) faith (verse 8) that is preventing them from understanding the way He wants them to understand Him. Jesus focuses their minds by reminding them of the miracles of feeding the two groups of thousands and the abundant left-overs, and repeating the warning. That has the desired effect, and they finally “get it.”
After they arrive in the district of Caesarea Philippi, Peter answers Jesus’ question of verse 15 with the knowledge that He is the son of God. Jesus declares that he was blessed to have such knowledge revealed to him by God Himself (verse 17). Unfortunately, verses 18-19 are the subject of much confusion and controversy. Many people get lost in scrutinizing the Greek and Aramaic words for rock, but the simple fact is that Jesus uses a play on words, as scripture very often does, with Peter’s name. And despite his flaws (and maybe even because of them), most of us really just like Peter. But the gospel is not about the glory of Peter. It is about Jesus, and our hope of salvation through Him.
The two verses are not so difficult to understand when you put them in context with verse 20, with the preceding verses, and with Jesus’ previous words about building a house on the rock (Matthew 7:24) The rock that Jesus is building on is the foundation of the son of God and His teachings; and his church or kingdom (Greek “ekklesia” – congregation or assembly) is the collection, or body, of people who have been saved by their obedience and faithfulness (Ephesians 2:19-22, 1 Corinthians 12:13). When Jesus says that He will give him the keys to the kingdom (in contrast to the scribes and Pharisees who cause people to be shut out – see Matthew 23:13), He is speaking of the divine revelation of His word, that will be given to the apostles by the Holy Spirit (John 16:12-15) to impart to us to be saved. That is when they will truly “get it.” The next part of verse 19 is best translated in the New American Standard Version, which in the correct tense says “and whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven.” Binding and loosing refer to forbidding and permitting, and the authority for their knowledge of it will be given to them. This is repeated to all of them in Matthew 18:18.
Jesus then tells them to tell no one that He is the Christ. Like Peter in verse 22, nobody would understand that the Christ has not come to rule as their earthly king anyway. Only after He offers Himself in death will that understanding come. Verse 21 (“From that time…”) is the first of four times from then until His arrival in Jerusalem, that He will tell them in Matthew of His imminent death and resurrection. We tend to forget that as Jesus was also a man, Peter’s sentiment for keeping Jesus alive would be a temptation, knowing what He has to suffer. It is in that light that we better understand His strong words to Peter in verse 23.
Verses 24-27 are the essence of what it means to be a Christian. The knowledge of what the salvation of our souls means to us eternally should be enough to cause us to deny ourselves the worldly pleasures everyone finds so important – those things that would stand in the way of salvation. If we do not, and we “gain the world,” we still will have lost everything. The meaning of verse 28 is said by some to be that some of those present will see the Him come into His kingdom at His death and resurrection, which makes sense. Others believe that it is the Transfiguration that comes in chapter 17, and is a preview of His divine glory to come. Both answers have merit; and both may well be correct. The point is that the time is coming soon.
some images © V. Gilbert & Arlisle F. Beers
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