© Rosemary Bardsley 2012

Matthew interrupts his record of Jesus’ miracles and parables with four distinct points of instruction.


The Pharisees and Sadducees have again demanded a ‘sign from heaven’ [16:1], despite the many miracles which Jesus has performed. Again Jesus has rebuked them, and refused their request. 

The Pharisees and Sadducees have already made it quite clear that:

• They are shocked by the company Jesus keeps [9:11]
• They attribute his miracles to the power of Satan [9:34; 12:24]
• They disagree violently with Jesus’ attitude to the Sabbath [12:2-14]
• So opposed are they to Jesus that they wanted to kill him [12:12]
• They question the right of Jesus to do and say the things he does [12:38]
• They disagree with Jesus’ attitude to the tradition of the elders [15:1-2]
• They were offended by his teaching [15:12]

When Jesus said to his disciples ‘Be careful … be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees’ [16:6] they thought that he was saying this because they had forgotten to take bread. Jesus quickly pointed out that their discussion about having no bread was quite out of place, given the fact that they had already witnessed his two miracles in which he multiplied a small handful of food into food for thousands. They should by now, from these miracles, have understood that the Creator of the universe was among them. He warned them again to be on their guard. Finally they understood his meaning: they were to be careful, to be on their guard against the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees.

How different their teaching was from the truth he is about to expose. They were the acknowledged custodians of God’s truth, they were the recognized upholders of the traditions. But Jesus says that they are so wrong that it is necessary for his disciples to be careful, to be on guard.



Having reached their destination Jesus seeks to elicit a declaration of faith from his disciples. From all he has taught them, from all the demonstrations he has given them, they should, by now, have come to some conclusion about his identity. How far have they progressed towards the truth? How far have they moved away from the strong influence of the Pharisees’ and Sadducees’ doctrines? How much have they understood? Have they yet accepted what the Pharisees and Sadducees are vehemently rejecting?

Peter’s confession is straight and to the point: ‘You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.’

To us this is not a particularly surprising confession. To Peter, to the disciples, it is an extremely radical and dangerous confession. To Jesus it is evidence of his Father’s revealing work in Peter’s heart.

B.1 Jesus accepts Peter’s confession
While in other contexts Jesus has avoided identification as the Messiah, even silencing demons and commanding people he had healed to tell no one, here, alone with his disciples, he accepts the title, indeed confirms it as being revealed by his Father. And not only is he acknowledging the Messiah title, he is also affirming that other part of the confession – that he is ‘the Son of the living God’. 

By eliciting this confession from Peter Jesus is preparing some of them for something way beyond their expectations that is about to occur.

B.2 This confession is the foundation of the church
This insight given to Peter by God, this truth about the real identity of Jesus, is the truth upon which the church is built. [The centrality and significance of this truth is the dominant theme of John’s gospel.]

B.3 The gates of Hades will not overcome the church [or prove stronger than the church]
Jesus is the Christ [the Messiah]; he is the Son of God. Grounded and established in him nothing, not even death and hell, can prevail against the church.

• Jesus Christ has prevailed against both hell and death by his own death and resurrection
• When people confess his name they are released from spiritual death
• Those who confess his name will be resurrected from physical death

On this confession of Christ the power of death and hell are demolished.

B.4 With this message of this Christ the disciples have the ‘keys of the kingdom of heaven’
How do people enter the kingdom of heaven … by hearing and believing that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God. Wherever this truth is taught and believed people enter the Kingdom. Where no one takes this truth, the Kingdom remains a locked door, and people remain trapped and bound in the kingdom of darkness. Only this truth – that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God, can liberate them.

Note that Jesus warns his disciples to be silent about his identity [20]



Having just confirmed Peter’s confession, Jesus proceeds to tell his disciples something that appears to totally contradict that confession. In this surprising statement he begins to instruct the disciple about the real nature of his Messiahship.

Leon Morris comments: “Now that it was clear that the little band had come to understand that Jesus was indeed the long-promised Messiah, he proceeded to teach them something of what messiahship meant. For the Jews in general, and presumably for the Twelve up to this point, being Messiah meant unadulterated glory. The Messiah might encounter opposition and even hardship, but this kind of thing was no more than an unpleasantness that must be passed through on the way to majesty and splendour. For Jesus suffering was th essence of messiahship, and from this point on he brings it out again and again (cf. 17:9,22-23; 20:18-19,28; 21:38-39; 26:2).” [page 427-8]


C.1 ‘must’
Jesus listed a number of things that ‘must’ occur:

• He must go to Jerusalem
• There he must suffer many things
• He must suffer these things at the hands of the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law
• He must be killed
• He must be raised to life on the third day

There is a divine necessity, an unavoidable, inescapable, divine purpose that was absolutely necessary, that must happen just as he has stated.

William Hendriksen comments: “Note: he must go to Jerusalem to suffer and to die, etc. he must satisfy the demands of the law, that is, he must pay the penalty for his people’s sin, in perfect obedience to his Father’s will, and in fulfilment of prophecy (20:28; Mark 10:45; Luke 12:50; 13:33; 22:37,44; John 1:29; 17:4; 2Corinthians 5:21; and last but not least Isaiah 53). He “must do what he himself also wanted to do (John 10:11; 2Corinthians 8:9; Galatians 2:20). [page 653]

Peter immediately voices his perception of the wrongness of such things ever happening to the Messiah [16:22]; Jesus in response points out how far Peter’s perceptions are from God’s perceptions.

How does Jesus define Peter’s attitude?



Leon Morris comments: “Peter’s mind was set on purely human ways of thinking. It comes naturally to us to think of glory and honor, of comfort and security. We find it difficult to understand things from the perspective of the righteous God who loves righteousness (Psalm 11:7). Peter had had his view that Jesus was the Messiah confirmed; in the light of that he found it incredible that this would entail rejection and suffering and death.” [Page 430]

After pointing out Peter’s defective mindset Jesus then addressed the whole group and pointed out that those who follow him, those who align with the Kingdom, need to take on board a whole new perspective. In this Kingdom perspective:

• Self-denial and suffering go hand in hand with following Christ [24].
• Losing one’s life for the sake of Christ is to really find or save one’s life [25]
• Gaining the world can mean forfeiting one’s soul [26].

To follow Christ is to belong to God’s Kingdom; to belong to God’s Kingdom is to have found one’s life.
To reject Christ, to focus instead on gaining the whole world, is to forfeit one’s soul.


D. THE TRANSFIGURATION [Matthew 17:1-13]

Six days later, Peter, James and John are given a brief glimpse of Jesus' eternal glory [17:1-13]. There on the mountain top the brilliant, blinding glory that accompanied God's revelation of himself in the Old Testament [Ezekiel 1:24-28; Daniel 7:9,10; 10:5,6], here shines out from Jesus. Then Moses and Elijah turn up. The three disciples are thrown into a confusion of fear. They don't know how to respond. In his panic Peter suggests they make little shelters - one for Jesus, one for Moses, one for Elijah.

A cloud comes and surrounds Jesus, Moses and Elijah. While they are hidden a voice speaks from the cloud: ‘This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him.’ The cloud disperses and only Jesus is there.

Why did this happen? Why did Jesus take these three disciples up the mountain to witness this? Peter's thoughtless suggestion is instructive. The disciples had not yet understood the significance of their confession that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God. Peter's suggestion ranks Jesus as equal with Moses and Elijah, even though he has affirmed that Jesus is the Christ, even though he now sees him brilliant with the glory of God. The voice of God says ‘This is my Son.’ The voice of God says: ‘Listen to him!’ Do not listen any more to Moses, the Lawgiver. Do not listen any more to Elijah, the Prophet. This is my Son. All that the Law has ever told you finds its fulfilment in my Son. All that the Prophets ever told you finds its fulfilment in my Son. He is all you need. He is the King. His is the Kingdom. Listen to him.

The cloud lifts. Jesus stands alone. The whole significance of the Law and the Prophets is all in this one man, the Son whom God loves.

Again Jesus gave instructions to tell no one.

Again Jesus speaks of his approaching death and resurrection:

• He will be raised from the dead [ 9]
• He will suffer at the hands or others [12]