The Demand for a Sign. Matt. 16, 1-4.

V. 1. The Pharisees also, with the Sadducees, came, and tempting, desired Him that He would show them a sign from heaven. Here is a combination showing how far unionistic tendencies may lead if the object is opposition to Christ: the Pharisees, legalists, with their unceasing harping upon the details of Law and tradition: and the Sadducees, rationalists, with their denial of large parts of the Old Testament and all those doctrines that did not suit their reason. At other times these two Jewish sects were at sword's points, but for the purpose of resisting Christ they gladly unite their forces. In order to tempt Him, they come, in a malicious, deceitful manner. In a haughty way they request, demand, a sign from heaven, In chapter 12, 38 they had not been so arrogant. Their bitterness toward Christ grew in the same measure as their inability to overcome Him. "Just as if the wonders which He had done hitherto were nothing at all, since they had been performed on earth only. As though they would say: Oh, these earthly miracles are nothing! If He would show that He was powerful in heaven, then one might believe Him. Not as though they had been willing even then to believe, but they in the mean time blaspheme these miracles in such a way, although they are far greater than those which they demanded from heaven. For to raise the dead, to give sight to the blind: that surpasses all signs which it is possible to show from heaven by as much as man, who is the likeness of God, surpasses heaven and all physical creatures, and eternal life the temporal creatures." 120)

Christ's reply: V. 2. He answered and said unto them, When it is evening, ye say, It will be fair weather; for the sky is red. V. 3. And in the morning, It will be foul weather today; for the sky is red and lowering. O ye hypocrites, ye can discern the face of the sky; but can ye not discern the signs of the times? Christ was deeply grieved over their duplicity, since they made their request sound reasonable before the people, as though they wanted to establish His Messiahship, whereas their real reason was blasphemy. Under no circumstances did they intend to believe on Him, Mark 8, 12. The Jews were careful observers of the weather. They knew very well the common signs indicating fair and foul weather. Constant and careful watching had taught them to regard a murky and lowering morning sky as a sure sign of an approaching rainstorm, while a red sunset caused them to expect fine weather for the next day. But skill in observing the signs of the weather; dullness and foolishness in spiritual matters! They knew not the times of their visitation, Luke 19, 44. They did not recognize, and refused to accept, Jesus as the Messiah, in spite of the many signs and wonders He had done in their midst. And so the signs of His entire ministry, of His life and death, which were originally intended to invite them into the kingdom of God, would now serve to harden their hearts all the more, thus bringing about their damnation. The ability to judge, distinguish, in spiritual matters was blunted. A constant abuse of their spiritual powers and faculties had resulted in their being much like mechanical toys, or like actors that repeat their lines and make their proper gestures at the indicated places, without entering into the identity of the character whom they represent. "He says thus: Those signs of the sky ye understand; why understand ye not these signs which are done for your salvation, if ye believe, or for your perdition, if ye do not believe? For ye now have a pleasant evening, from which ye may have hope concerning a future salutary and bright day; upon this will follow a murky morning, on which ye may expect eternal damnation. For My signs, and this time of grace and the wrath to come, are not less plain, and shine as brightly as the sky itself with his evening and morning; if ye would but look into the prophets that prophesy of this time, and look at things properly which ye see. But ye permit yourselves to be moved neither through the promises of Scripture nor through things that have actually been done, and are only drowned in these temporal matters, whether happy or sad days will come. Therefore ye pay attention to nothing, and in the mean time ye still demand other signs." 121)

The refusal: V. 4. A wicked and adulterous generation seeketh after a sign, and there shall no sign be given unto it but the sign of the Prophet Jonas. And He left them and departed. As in the previous case, Matt. 12, 38, 39, Christ does not mince matters. He calls them an evil and adulterous brood, one whose hearts have turned from justice, righteousness, and goodness, and from the worship of the true God to vain imaginations, meaningless traditions, a proud self-righteousness. They are eager in their demand for a sign, but when the greatest sign of all, the resurrection of Christ after the type of the Prophet Jonas, will be set before them, they will harden their hearts. Even so the present generation in the world is wise in the matters of this world, but the signs of the times it cannot discern. That the Gospel of Jesus Christ the Savior is the only agency that will set their hearts and minds aright is hidden from their eyes. The Lord realized the hopelessness of further argument in the case of these deceitful enemies. He pronounced judgment upon them by turning His back to them and abruptly departing, a very effective and, often, the only advisable way to deal with enemies of this type.

The Leaven of the Pharisees. Matt. 16, 5-12.

V. 5. And when His disciples were come to the other side, they had forgotten to take bread. The departure of Jesus after His encounter with the Pharisees and Sadducees was hurried. From the neighborhood of Dalmanutha, on the western shore of the sea, He crossed over to the other side, probably into some section of Gaulanitis. His greatest concern was for His disciples, how they would behave under the present circumstances, how their faith would hold out against the schemes of the Pharisees. So absorbed was He in this problem that He paid no attention to the minor matters of the body. The fact that His disciples, in the excitement of the quick embarking, had forgotten, neglected, to take bread with them, did not enter His consciousness.

The warning and its understanding: V. 6. Then Jesus said unto them, Take heed and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and of the Sadducees. V. 7. And they reasoned among themselves, saying, It is because we have taken no bread. It was on the trip across the lake that Jesus spoke to them, Mark 8, 14. They were worried on account of their neglect; the single loaf of bread in the boat was on their mind. The mention of leaven, therefore, was connected in their minds with bread, and it was bread which they lacked. They argued therefore that Jesus was reproaching them for not having a sufficient number of loaves with them in the boat. It was with them as with the Christians of all times: hard for them to get away from the care of the body! They neither marked that Jesus purposely used the word "leaven," nor did they notice the emphasis upon the "Pharisees and Sadducees." Christ's object had been to warn them, in the form of a parabolic saying, against the doctrine of both sects, against the outward work-righteousness of the Pharisees and against the conventional, worldly bearing of the Sadducees.

The reproof and explanation: V. 8. Which when Jesus perceived, He said unto them, O ye of little faith, why reason ye among yourselves because ye have brought no bread? V. 9. Do ye not yet understand, neither remember the five loaves of the five thousand, and how many baskets ye took up? V. 10. Neither the seven loaves of the four thousand, and how many baskets ye took up? V. 11. How is it that ye do not understand that I speak it not to you concerning bread, that ye should beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and of the Sadducees? V. 12. Then understood they how that He bade them not beware of the leaven of bread, but of the doctrine of the Pharisees and of the Sadducees. Jesus could not help but notice their lack of understanding. Even if their conversation was carried on in voices too low for Him to hear, He read what went on in their minds. His reproach is sad, almost stern: He charges them with little understanding, with hardness of heart. Mark 8, 17. 18, with little faith. That they are concerned about, and gravely discuss, a question of bodily food, when dangers are confronting their faith! He challenges their understanding, their memory, in the matter of the feeding of the five thousand and, shortly after that, of the four thousand. He wants them to recall how many baskets of fragments they picked up in either case: Are ye still too dull to draw conclusions? The question of a sufficient supply of bread had in no way entered into the situation. It was a matter solely of their imagination and their care for the body that prompted them to think as they had. "Here we see that Christ deals in a most loving manner with those that do not tempt Him, but are ready, absolutely and simply to be instructed of Him. For, behold, how much patience He has with the ignorance of the apostles in the Word and with their weakness in the faith. He did not go away and leave them, as He did the Pharisees; but He bears and heals their foolishness in a most kindly manner and is obliged to explain Himself over against them as against children with clear words in regard to that which He had said, and accommodate Himself to their ability. And they also do not cast away the love, the trust, and the respect toward Him, but they, as true disciples, gladly bear His reproof and become better through it." 122) Their understanding having thus been opened, they were no longer at a loss as to the meaning of the word "leaven." As the yeast, or leaven, which is added to the meal, though it may be small in amount, yet exerts its power upon the whole mass, so it is with false doctrine. It may be an apparently small matter, a doubt as to the validity of a Scripture-passage, a false understanding of a fundamental truth; and the entire structure of faith is liable to be undermined. The disciples now understood that He warned them against the false doctrine of the Pharisees, including their hypocrisy, pride, envy, self-righteousness, and arrogance, and that of the Sadducees in denying the existence of the spiritual world, the immortality of the soul, the resurrection of the body, and the providence of God. "He reminded them that they must hold the Word and faith firmly against the doctrine of the Pharisees and Sadducees. As though He would say: Why are ye worried on account of the bread for the body? Strive to be concerned for the bread of the spirit, for the Word and faith, against false doctrine and faith. Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, that ye may not, through false teachers, be misled into the kingdom of the devil and error. For this true bread ye must be concerned." 123)

"Christ the Son of the Living God." Matt. 16, 13-20.

V. 13. When Jesus came into the coasts of Caesarea Philippi, He asked His disciples, saying, Whom do men say that I, the Son of Man, am? V. 14. And they said, Some say that Thou art John the Baptist; some, Elias; and others, Jeremias or one of the prophets. A second time Christ made an excursion northwards, to the very boundary of Palestine, into the territory of Herod Philip, who had practically rebuilt this city and made it his residence. It had formerly been called Paneas, and is probably the ancient Leshem or Laish, Josh. 19, 47; Judg. 18, 7. The reasons for this journey were probably those of the preceding trip to the North, to get away, for a while, from the distractions of the active ministry, with its tedious and wearing vexations, and to gain time and opportunity for uninterrupted intercourse with the disciples. They needed a great deal of help in their faith, since the days of real temptations were drawing near. They must grow in Him and through Him in faith and firmness, lest the last great test find them unable to hold their own. While they were on their way into this region, Jesus, not so much for His own information as for the sake of testing the faith of His disciples, asks them the question: Whom do people take Me for? What do they find in Me? He applies the official title "Son of Man" to Himself, as distinguishing Him according to His person and His work. It appears that the bitter slanderings of the Pharisees had at least had so much effect that the belief in His Messiahship had gradually been suppressed among the common people. But they still held Him in high esteem. They either believed that one of the prophets, such as John the Baptist, Elijah, or Jeremiah, had been raised from the dead, or they held, according to Pharisaical example, that the soul and spirit of one of these prophets had come to new life in Jesus. Christ was indeed a prophet, Deut. 18, 15, and He was very properly called Elijah, Mal. 4, 5; however, in a far higher sense than these ignorant people thought. But the Lord's inquiry had a deeper purpose, namely, to get an express declaration of faith from His disciples, and to confirm and strengthen them in it.

The confession: V. 15. He saith unto them, But whom say ye that I am? V. 16. And Simon Peter answered and said, Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God. V. 17. And Jesus answered and said unto him, Blessed art thou, Simon Barjona; for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but My Father which is in heaven. V. 18. And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build My Church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. Here was the time of decision, for a declaration of personal faith. "This was the decisive moment in which the separation of the New Testament Church from the Old Testament theocracy was to be made. The hour had come for the utterance of a distinct Christian confession." 124) The disciples met this test of their understanding and faith in a splendid manner. Simon Peter, impetuous, emotional, energetic, outspoken, gave an answer in the name of the apostles, as their spokesman, voicing, in a short declaration, their opinion and unanimous agreement: "Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God." This was not the sense which the Jewish traditional idea connected with the word Messiah, a mere deliverer from earthly bondage, but a concise and still comprehensive confession of the Christhood, the divinity, the deity of Jesus. It expressed their faith in Him as the promised Redeemer. It was a reply and correlate to Christ's "Son of Man" in verse 13. It was a decided, solemn, and deep declaration, spoken with emotion and a sense of the gravity of the circumstances. "Therefore the entire Apostolic Creed is included in these words: 'Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God'; namely, that He is the Son of God, the almighty Father, the Creator of heaven and earth, and that our Lord Jesus Christ was conceived of the Holy Ghost, born of the Virgin Mary, that He suffered for us, that He died and was raised from the dead, and sitteth at the right hand of God the Father, because He is Son, Judge, and Lord over all; that He distributes forgiveness of sins through the Holy Ghost, unto the resurrection and to eternal life." 125)

Jesus was highly pleased with this confession which Peter had made in the name of the apostles. He calls him happy, blessed, in the sense of possessing happiness as a given glory. Jesus was satisfied as to the quality of Peter's faith. He addresses him in a solemn manner: Simon, the son of Jona. But He explains the blessedness by placing the credit where it properly belongs. For what Peter here had confessed as his faith was no vain, human illusion which flesh and blood, his own nature and reason, had revealed to him. It was a revelation of God Himself. The right knowledge of Jesus Christ, true faith, is God's work and gift. It is not a deceitful, human imagination, but divine certainty. Happy, blessed, is he that makes this confession the faith of his heart.

The Lord adds a promise which concerns the entire Church till the end of time. Solemnly addressing Peter, the spokesman of the Twelve, He tells him, with a fine play on words, that upon his rocklike confession He will build His Church. He does not say: On thee, but: "On this rock." The gist of the passage is: Peter-like faith in Jesus, expressed in the same bold manner, by open confession of the mouth, admits into the kingdom of heaven, into the Church of Jesus Christ. Or, as Luther expresses it: "On this rock, understand, not which thou art; for thy person would be too weak for such foundation; but upon the confession of faith which makes thee a rock, I will build my Church. This foundation can hold and is strong enough; the devil will not be able to throw it over or throw it down." 126) Against this Church, as it is built, and because it is built upon this rock, the gates of hell cannot prevail, all the powers of hell cannot conquer it. It is strong, enduring, so long as the faith in the Father and in Jesus Christ, His Son, our Redeemer, and in the Spirit, as giving this blessed certainty, reigns in it.

A special distinction: V. 19. And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom, of heaven; and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. In recognition of his faith, as expressed in his confession, Christ confers on Peter and on all that believe the keys of the kingdom of heaven. The keys are an emblem of the power which admits into, or prevents any unauthorized person from entering into, a house. Christ, the Son of God, has the key of David, the power to lock and unlock the house or kingdom of God, Rev. 3, 7. He has earned for all sinners mercy and salvation. And this power and authority He gives to His believing disciples. Whosoever believes, has part in Christ and in all that Christ possesses. Whosoever believes is in the kingdom of heaven, has forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation, and may and shall impart also to others the treasures of the kingdom. "But this is their opinion, that the power of the keys, or the power of the bishops, according to the Gospel, is a power or commandment of God, to preach the Gospel, to remit and retain sins, and to administer Sacraments" (Augsburg Confession, Art. 28).

Christ's First Prophecy Concerning His Passion. Matt. 16, 21-28.

V. 21. From that time forth began Jesus to show unto His disciples how that He must go unto Jerusalem, and suffer many things of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised again the third day. The disciples had made a splendid confession of their faith, proving conclusively that they had the right, saving knowledge concerning Jesus, their Redeemer. Christ therefore thought it the appropriate time to prepare them gradually for the great climax, the culmination of His work. They should now be able to bear the news. He began to show them, to give them explicit and detailed information. A very significant word: He must go to Jerusalem; a divine obligation was resting upon Him, it was a necessity which He had taken upon Himself to fulfill the will of His heavenly Father by His death for all mankind, Ps. 40, 8. The elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, twenty-four of each class of these forming the great Sanhedrin, or chief council of the Jews. That these enemies of His would succeed in putting Him to death, but that He would be raised on the third day: that was the sum and substance that Jesus attempted to make clear to the disciples from the Scriptures of the Old Testament.

Peter interferes: V. 22. Then Peter took Him, and began to rebuke Him, saying, Be it far from Thee, Lord; this shall not be unto Thee. V. 23. But He turned and said unto Peter, Get thee behind Me, Satan; thou art an offense unto Me; for thou savorest not the things that be of God, but those that be of men. Peter, the impulsive, probably filled with a feeling of satisfaction on account of the high praise which the Lord had bestowed upon him, laid his hand upon Jesus, or seized Him from behind, as though he would shelter Him by main force. At the same time, he began most emphatically to chide Christ: Far be it from Thee; may God avert it by all means! It was a well-meant, but altogether meddlesome interference with the business of Christ. He did not get very far, for Jesus, having turned around, gave him such a sharp rebuke as no other disciple ever got. A Satan, an adversary, He called him; He accused him of tempting Him to do wrong. Peter's thoughts were not in a line with God's will and work, but were solely the product of his own mind and heart. He was still concerned with his own problems only; he had not acquired the wider vision necessary in the kingdom of God; his thoughts were yet of the earth, earthly. "This is the meaning of Christ, in this serious matter, but directed against a dear apostle: Ah, Peter, thou didst answer correctly when I asked thee and all disciples, that I am Christ, the Son of the living God; but now, since thou hearest that I shall be crucified, thou understandest not the wonderful counsel of God, and art bothered with thy flesh and carnal thoughts, and speakest without the revelation of the Father only thy own ideas, that is, foolish and carnal things. Therefore get thee behind Me; far be it from Me that I should prefer thy carnal wisdom to the will of the Father: much rather would I lose thee and all than that I, upon thy objection, should not obey My Father. Here thou art altogether a fool and dost not understand what is carried out through the Son of the living God, whom thou hast confessed." 127)

Taking the cross: V. 24. Then said Jesus unto His disciples. If any man will come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. V. 25. For whosoever will save his life shall lose it; and whosoever will lose his life for My sake shall find it. This is practically a repetition of Matt. 10, 38. What Christ had stated there He found necessary to emphasize here once more. Denial of self, of all self-righteousness, of all selfishness, is natural for a Christian that partakes of the spirit of Christ; taking up the cross, whatever of burden, whatever of trial and persecution and trouble and labor and peril and death the heavenly Father may see fit to impose that is the cheerful burden of the Christian, because it means following Him. He who aims to find in this life, in this world, all that his heart desires, will, by that fact, lose the real life in and with Christ. But he who will cheerfully give up all that this life, this world, may offer and give him, for the sake of Jesus, his Savior, will find true, abounding, everlasting life in the Redeemer. "Therefore one must describe exactly what it means to take the cross upon one. To take the cross upon one means: for the sake of the Word and the faith voluntarily to take and to bear the hatred of the devil, of the world, of the flesh, of sin, and of death. Here it is not necessary to choose a cross. Just begin the first part of the life and deny thyself, that is, rebuke the righteousness of works, and confess the righteousness of faith, and immediately the other part will also be there, namely, the cross which thou then shalt take upon thyself, just as Christ took His upon Himself." 128)

True gain: V. 26. For what is a man profited if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? Or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul? V. 27. For the Son of Man shall come in the glory of His Father with His angels; and then He shall reward every man according to his works. V. 28. Verily I say unto you, There be some standing here which shall not taste of death till they see the Son of Man coming in His kingdom. Christ places the other alternative before His disciples. Supposing it to be possible that a man, by constant, unceasing labor, should gain the whole world; but, if in doing so, he forfeit his soul, his soul be made a forfeit, by the bargain, would it really be a gain? Could he take all his goods and give them as an exchange for his soul? Could he use them as a price to buy back the true life which he has lost with his soul? And there is not merely the negative disagreeable feature of losing the soul for this life, but there is the prospect of positive punishment. It will be, it is certain: The Son of Man will come, no longer in poverty and lowliness, as in the days of His earthly sojourn, but in the full glory of His Godhead, which He will exercise also according to His human nature. Accompanied by His angels, He will come to judgment, and He will give, give back, return, to every one according to his doing, as every person has given proof of the faith in his heart by the works of his hands. That will be the Judgment, which no one can escape. Matt. 25, 31-46. In the manner peculiar to prophets, Christ makes no distinction between the events near at hand and those afar off; for the eternal God, who inspires prophecy, has no time. Before Him all things are happening in the great now, in the present. Christ gives His disciples the assurance that some of them will not die, will not taste of the cup which yields death, until they see Him coming in His kingdom. This refers either to the glorification of Jesus through His death and resurrection, which introduced the actual beginning of His Church on earth, with the festival of Pentecost, or it points to the day when God began His judgment upon Jerusalem. That was the dawn of the day which will finally bring Jesus back in all His glory. Some of the disciples of Christ actually lived until long after the destruction of Jerusalem, thus becoming further living examples and proofs for the truth of Christ's words.

Summary. Christ refuses the demand of the Pharisees for a, sign, warns against the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees, hears the confession of His disciples, and rebukes Peter for interfering with His Messianic ministry.