3 September 2017

Matthew 16:21-28

“From that time on, Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and undergo great suffering at the hands of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.” (v. 21)

Psalm: Psalm 26


The apostle Peter was a very significant figure in the Early Church, as we might expect, given his prominence in the gospel accounts. And he is portrayed 'warts and all'.

Today's passage represents the major turning point in the narrative of Matthew's Gospel, as, in the preceding verses Peter had finally understood (or so he thought...) who Jesus really was - the Jewish Messiah, or "Christ" (Matthew 16:13-20). Many Jews in the first century believed that God would raise up a saviour-king who would defeat their enemies and usher in a new age of purity and justice - and global Jewish dominance. But Jesus (and this is very important) avoided using this title for himself, preferring to describe himself as "the Son of Man", an altogether more ambiguous term, derived in part from Daniel 7, where we read about an enigmatic human figure who is given authority by God to rule on earth, and partly from Isaiah's equally enigmatic (and equally human) "Suffering Servant", whose own death will lead to the transformation and renewal of Israel (eg Isaiah 52:13 - 53:12). And this is where Peter was confused, as his response to Jesus' declaration about his impending death makes very clear (verse 22).

Jesus' rebuke to Peter (verse 23) was harsh - he called him "Satan", the "tester", and told him to follow behind him, and not to get in his way. And Jesus made it very clear to his disciples that following him would potentially be as costly for them as doing God's will would be for himself. This may tell us something about the situation confronting Christians in the community (probably Jewish Christians) for whom Matthew was writing - at a time when both Jews and Christians were being persecuted, following the fall of Jerusalem in AD70, and hoping desperately that the Messiah would come very soon to save them, which Jesus had, according to Matthew's Gospel, promised (verse 28).

To Ponder

  • Matthew's Gospel was probably written for a late 1st-century Jewish Christian audience, facing persecution. How might that influence the way we read it today?
  • Today the gospel (good news of Jesus) is often presented in terms of the benefits that Christians might enjoy, rather than the cost that following Jesus might involve. Does that matter? Why?
  • Jesus, according to Matthew's Gospel, believed that God's kingdom would be established on earth within a generation. It didn't happen. So was Jesus mistaken? Or what might Jesus have meant?

Bible notes author

The Revd David Rhymer

The Revd David Rhymer has done a number of things over the last 40-odd years - including teaching (science), publishing (theology), full-time ministry (Baptist and Methodist) and national Methodist Team work (training & development officer for Cornwall). More recently he has been responsible for a part-time theology degree course at Exeter University, and until 2017, was involved with teaching students preparing for ministry in the south-west.