29 June 2016

Matthew 16:13-19

Matthew 16:13-19 “He said to them, ‘But who do you say that I am?’ Simon Peter answered, ‘You are the messiah, the son of the living God.’” (vv. 15-16)

Psalm: Psalm 125


Today the Church celebrates St Peter and St Paul. Peter is believed to have been crucified some time during AD64. He is, among others, the patron saint of fishermen and shipbuilders. The day is a public holiday in Rome.

Today's passage comes after Jesus warning the disciples against the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees (Matthew 16:1-12), that is, the negative influence which they exercised.

Jesus and his disciples found themselves in the district of Caesarea Philippi. It was beyond the boundaries of Galilee and was ruled by Philip the Tetrarch, one of Herod's sons. It was on the slopes of Mount Hermon. Traditionally, it was a place where many pagan gods had been worshipped. It was Gentile (non Jewish) country.

Jesus entered into a conversation with his disciples as to his identity. The answers which the disciples gave are significant. John the baptiser had recently been beheaded and some people thought that Jesus was John raised from the dead. Elijah and Jeremiah were two important prophets in Israel's history. And since there had not been any prophets in Israel for some 400 years, people thought that Jesus must be one of them.

Then Jesus asked a more direct question: the disciples had been with him for some time: who did they think he was?

Peter answered the question: the Messiah, son of the living God. The word Messiah means 'anointed one'.

Jesus then went on to tell Peter that he would be the foundation of the early Church. (Peter means 'rock'). The reference to "the gates of Hades" (v. 18) means that evil will not be victorious over the church. The "keys of the kingdom" (v. 19) means that Peter's witness will unlock the 'door' so that many people will come to follow Jesus because of him. The "binding'" and "loosing" in verse 19 come from the rabbinic tradition, where rabbis had authority to allow (bind) or prohibit (loose) certain forms of conduct. So Peter's confession brought with it a set of responsibilities.

The chapter ends with Jesus rebuking Peter for not fully understanding that Jesus must die on the cross (Luke 16:21-27). And in the first part of chapter 17 Jesus revealed himself in a mysterious way on the mountain of transfiguration (Luke 17:1-13).

Jesus' question to his disciples is important for followers today. One's answer to the question as to Jesus' identity challenges people to think about who Jesus really is for them. And all those who come after Peter, are to continue the work which he carried out 2,000 years ago. And despite Peter's confession and Jesus' instructions to him, he made plenty of mistakes along the way.

The hymn writer John Newton, must have given some thought to the question of who Jesus was, for he refers to Jesus as: "My shepherd, brother, friend, my prophet, priest and king, my Lord, my life, my way, my end" (StF 322).

To Ponder

  • How would you answer the question: "Who do you say that I am?"
  • How does Peter's life of faith and failure encourage you as a disciple in the 21st century? 

Bible notes author

The Revd Lynita Conradie

Lynita Conradie is a Methodist presbyter in the Nottingham North Circuit. Originally from South Africa, she was a human rights' lawyer before entering the ministry and being ordained by the Methodist Church of Southern Africa.