8. Preaching the gospel, 13:53-17:23

ix] Peter's confession of Jesus


Jesus and his disciples have entered the district of Caesarea Philippi, some twenty miles north of the Sea of Galilee. He asks the disciples who people say he is. Most people see Jesus as some sort of prophet, but Jesus wants to know who the disciples think he is. Peter declares that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God. Jesus then announces that Peter is blessed for this answer and that upon this rock Jesus will build the new Israel, bestowing on Peter and his fellow believers the authority to bind and loose.


The church is founded on faith in Christ, and its mission is fulfilled in preaching the gospel and authoritatively offering forgiveness (loosing) or condemnation (binding), depending on a person's response to the proclamation of the gospel.


i] Context: See 13:53-58. The narrative section, Preaching the Gospel, 13:53-17:23, develops the theme of the third discourse, The Gospel, 13:1-52. In the third part of this narrative section, 16:13-17:23, Matthew takes us to the heart of the gospel, namely the mystery of Christ's passion, while at the same time revealing the substance of faith, namely, identification with Christ's vicarious sacrifice.

Peter's confession of Christ provides the classic response to the gospel, 16:13-20, but faith in Christ involves more than an affirmation of Jesus as messiah. This is revealed in Christ's first prediction of his death and resurrection, 16:21-23. Jesus, the anointed one of God, is destined to die, but will rise. The necessary response to this reality involves identification with his death, 16:24-28. Yet, beside humiliation there is glory, a glory which is revealed in the transfiguration, 17:1-13. So, a right response to the gospel entails a faith which identifies with the glorious suffering one. The gospel is bereft of power without this response, 17:14-21. Matthew winds up the 3rd. narrative by restating the fundamentals - Christ has died, Christ is risen (and soon he will add, Christ will come again), 17:22-23.


Commentators tend to link 16:13ff to the 4th discourse, the Christian Community, but these notes proceed on the assumption that Matthew continues to use the narratives up to 17:23 to explain the gospel at work, ie., the 3rd. Narrative looks back to the 3rd. Discourse. In the Leaven of the Pharisees Mark has presented the disciples as lacking understanding / faith, and then uses the step-by-step healing of the blind man at Bethsaida to show a growing awareness of Christ which climaxes with the confession of Peter at Caesarea Philippi. For Matthew, the focus is not on the disciples but on the truth of the gospel as compared to the leaven / teaching of the Pharisees. The disciples' faith is weak, but they do come to understand, so Matthew does not record the healing of the blind man in Mark's account.

Matthew's next pericope is Peter's confession of Christ - a classic response to the gospel. Next comes the first prediction of Christ, establishing foundational gospel truths, and then the call "let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me." This call is often interpreted in discipleship terms, as if looking forward to the 4th. Discourse. Yet, this is all about carrying Christ's cross. Christ is the glorious suffering one, the full benefits of which are facilitated in identification in his cross-bearing on our behalf, ie., taking up our cross and following Christ is not a call to cross-bearing discipleship, but a call to identification with the suffering Christ, a call to rest on the grace of God in Christ. So, Matthew's theme in the narratives through to 17:23 is the gospel at work, not discipleship.


ii] Structure: Peter's confession of Jesus:

Setting, v13a;

Conversation, v13b-16;

"Who do people say the Son of Man is?", v13b;

Discourse / sayings, v17-19.

"blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah ...", v17;

"on this rock I will build my church ....", v18;

"whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven ....", v19.

Narrative conclusion, v20.


iii] Interpretation:

The story of Peter's confession of Jesus as the Christ is a turning point in the synoptic tradition. Time is running out, the kingdom is drawing near and is about to impact on the Gentile world. So, Jesus seeks to draw out from his disciples the significance of his person. Jesus' contemporaries may see him as a teacher, or prophet, but it is essential for his disciples to understand that he is the long-promised messiah. Peter's confession of Jesus as the Christ serves as the foundational response to the gospel upon which the church is built; it is "the rock" upon which Jesus will build the new Israel. Depending on a person's response to the gospel, the fellowship of believers has the power and authority either to bind the unrepentant to condemnation, or to loose the repentant from the powers of darkness and death.


Peter's confession: The confession of Peter has prompted endless debate, but can be condensed into three possible interpretations:

• Peter's recognition of Jesus as messiah is representative of all disciples, and it is upon this recognition that Christ will build his church;

• Peter is a unique disciple upon whom Jesus will build his church;

• Peter is uniquely the first disciple to recognize Jesus as messiah, and upon this recognition Christ will build his church.

The first option is generally accepted by Protestant commentators, the second by Roman commentators. The third option bridges the first two, although if Peter is speaking for all the apostles then his recognition of Christ cannot be classified as unique.

Jesus seems to give Simon son of John/Jonah the nickname "Rocky", but the meaning of this image is unclear. Is the "rock" Jesus, Jesus' words (so Gundry), Peter, the confession of faith, or the content of the confession? Protestants have rejected the idea that Peter is the rock, rejecting also the Roman Catholic teaching that Peter's successors (the Popes) possess infallibility on matters of religion and authority over the church. Protestants have tended to see the rock as either Christ, or more particularly, Peter's confession of faith. Elsewhere Jesus is the rock, but here Peter is the rock and Jesus is the builder.

Context always determines meaning. Jesus is probably saying that Peter is the first among equals (not by any means perfect or superior to the other apostles) and upon his confession of faith, Jesus will build his church. Christ's last-days community ("church", literally "assembly") will be built (gathered-in and prepared to rule in eternity) as others join with Peter in the acceptance of Jesus as messiah (the anointed one sent by God to establish his eternal kingdom). "In principle all the apostles constituted the foundation [of the church], with Jesus as the cornerstone, but as a matter of historical fact it was on Peter's leadership that the earliest phase of the church's development would depend and that personal role, fulfilling his name Rock, is appropriately celebrated by Jesus' words here", France.


What does Jesus mean by "whatever you bind / loose on earth shall have been bound / loosed in heaven"? D&A lists thirteen possible meanings; the main options are as follows:

• A Jewish rabbinical sense where "bind" = forbid, hinder, restrict, and "loose" = permit, cf. TEV. So, the words are often taken to refer to decisions of the church; "the Spirit inspired church (or in the more narrow sense "Peter and his successors", D&A) will be able to declare authoritatively what things are forbidden and what things are permitted", Morris, so also France, Hill,... Of course, given the tense of "shall have been bound" and "shall have been loosed", the church's authority over matters of faith and morals, must be in harmony with the teachings of Jesus / the Word of God, ie., "Peter does in the present age what God has already determined. In other words, Peter has received direction from God for his scribal activity. This direction consists in Jesus' teaching. Other disciples have received the same direction, since Peter stands for them", Gundry. "The church on earth carries out heaven's (God's) decisions, not heaven (God) ratifying the church's decisions", Albright and Mann. So, as Mussner via Luz puts it, Peter, as with all disciples, exercises his authority by the "constant uncompromising advocacy of the teachings of Jesus." In this sense Peter functions as the scribe trained for the kingdom of heaven, no longer teaching the Law, but the righteousness of faith, ie., the gospel of God's grace, cf. 13:52;

• A legal technical sense where "bind" = put in fetters, and "loose" = acquit. Peter, and by implication all who confess the faith, have authority, in the face of the coming kingdom, to exercise divine judgment through the proclamation of the gospel;

• A theological sense describing the binding of Satan / demonic powers and of losing / releasing people from the bondage of evil;

• An ecclesiastical sense, of retaining and forgiving sins. Nolland calls this option an example of "performative speech" and he notes that the "coordination marked by the perfect participles would also fit the declaration of forgiveness and the withholding of forgiveness found in Jn.20:23". "The authority spoken of, then, is in effect that of being able to declare whether a person becomes fully a part of the community of salvation or not, no longer simply on the basis of obedience to the Torah, but on the basis of response or lack of response to the good news of the kingdom", Hagner;

• In the sense that "bind and loose" stands for "shut" and "open", cf. Rev. 3:7, 9:1, 20:1. "By means of the preaching of the gospel he (Peter / church) was opening the doors to some (Acts 2:38, 39, 3:16-20, 4:12, 10:34-43), closing them to others (3:23)", Hendriksen, so also Blomberg. Peter and the other disciples, possessing the gospel revealed to them by the "Father in heaven", now have the keys that can open the door to the kingdom. They have authority to proclaim a message with the power to exclude or permit entry to the kingdom of heaven. The gospel is the key that locks out the rebel, but also unlocks the bounty of God's heavenly blessings now made available in the person and work of Jesus. The gospel binds the unrepentant to condemnation, as the Pharisees bound many to judgment by their teaching of the law, but also looses the repentant, as Christ loosed many demon-possessed people from the clutches of Satan. We should note though that plural "keys" is "more suited to the steward than the porter controlling a single entrance", Luz.


iv] Synoptics:

Both Matthew and Mark make the confession at Caesarea Philippi the central turning point in their gospels. From this point on the focus is on Jesus and his disciples, with both accounts moving inexorably toward Jerusalem and the cross. Mark's artistic placement of Jesus' healing of the blind man at Bethsaida serves to reinforce the growing faith of the disciples, Mk.8:22-26. Matthew does not develop this theme, although it is evident, eg., 17:23b.


v] Exposition: A simple exposition of this passage may be found in the linked pew-level Sermon Notes.

Text - 16:13a

Jesus is revealed to the apostles as the Messiah, the Son of God, v13-20: i] Opening transitional note establishing the setting, v13a. Jesus has moved away from the crowds in order to teach his disciples. Caesarea Philippi, at the base of Mount Hermon and some 50 kilometers North of Galilee, is a Gentile town, and Jesus has moved in nearby.

elqwn (ercomai) aor. part. "when [Jesus] came" - [and jesus] having come. The participle is adverbial, best treated as temporal, as NIV.

ta merh (oV) "the region" - [into] the part, region. "The district."

KaisareiaV thV Filippou gen. "of Caesarea Philippi" - The genitive is adjectival, locative; "the territory near the town of Caesarea Philippi", TH. Identifying the northern border region of Galilee.


ii] Dialogue, v13b-16. a) Jesus asks his first question, v13b.

hrwta (erwtaw) imperf. "he asked" - he was asking, questioning [the disciples of him]. The imperfect is durative so possibly indicating a question-time, although a durative verb is often used of speech.

legwn (legw) pres. part. "-" - saying. Attendant circumstance participle, redundant; "he asked ..... and said."

oiJ anqrwpoi (oV) "people" - [whom] the men [say the son of man to be]? Nominative subject of the verb "to say." In a general sense, "the crowds", the swirl of humanity that focused on Jesus' ministry of healing, but did not believe.

ton uiJon tou anqrwpou "the Son of Man" - See 8:20. Mark and Luke have "who I am?", which illustrates that Jesus is not seeking the crowd's definition of "the Son of Man." Jesus favors this designation of the messiah from Daniel 7:13. The term can just mean "man", so assisting the messianic secret.

einai (eimi) pres. inf. "is" - to be. The infinitive introduces a dependent statement of indirect speech expressing what the people say, namely, that the Son of Man is this, that the Son of man is that; "who do people say that the Son of Man is?", ESV.


b) The disciples answer Jesus' first question, v14. They relate the positive views held of Jesus, although all are more or less off the mark. That he is a post-death John the Baptist is nothing more than superstition. The suggestion that he is Elijah has some Biblical support, Mal.4:5. Matthew is the only gospel writer to mention Jeremiah and probably the sense is of a Jeremiah-type, a prophet of doom.

men .. .. de ... de .... "[some say ... others .... still others]" - on the one hand [some say john the baptist] but on the other hand [others say elijah] and then again [others say jeremiah or one of the prophets]. Adversative comparative construction. The oiJ ..... alloi ..... eJteroi, "some ..... others ..... others ....", is a unique construction for the NT.


c) Jesus asks a second more pointed question, v15. Jesus pushes the disciples to articulate their own understanding.

uJmeiV de "but what about you?" - [he says to them], but you. The conjunction is adversative and the personal pronoun, "you", is emphatic. "'But you', he said", NJB.

autoiV dat. pro. "[he asked]" - [he said] to them. Dative of indirect object.

einai pres. inf. "I am" - to be. The infinitive as v13; "who do you say that I am?" ESV.


d) Jesus' question was to all the disciples, but Peter answers his question, v16. Peter's confession may well express the opinion of all the disciples, namely, that Jesus is the messiah, "the Christ", sent by God to save Israel. The term, "Son of God", is a messianic title meaning "the Anointed One," and is not alluding to Jesus' filial relationship with the Father. As for God being "the living God", he is living in that he is the source and giver of life.

Simwn PetroV "Simon Peter" - [and having answered] simon peter [said]. Nominative subject of the verb to-be. Here identifying Peter's surname, derived from the Hebrew "Simeon".

apokriqeiV (apokrinomai) aor. pas. part. "answered" - having answered. Attendant circumstance participle, redundant; "answered and said."

oJ CristoV "the Christ" - [you are] the christ. Predicate nominative. With the article the meaning is messiah, the anointed one of God, the coming one, as promised by the Old Testament prophets.

tou qeou (oV) "[Son] of [the living] God" - [the son] of the god. The genitive is adjectival, relational. Here simply a messianic title, the Anointed One, the messiah of Israel, rather than revealing a filial relationship between the Father and the Son.

tou zwntoV (zaw) part. gen. "living" - of the living. The participle is adjectival, attributive, limiting "God". The descriptor may describe God as the source of all life and the giver of life, which indeed he is. Often translated as an attribute of God, "the living God", but the adjective's function to limit may serve here to separate God from the other dead gods, no gods; "the Son of the God who is the living one (as distinct from those gods who aren't)." The God we worship is "the God who acts in history in contrast to the dead Gentile idols", Luz.


iii] Discourse / sayings, v17-19. All three are controlled by 2nd. sing. verbs, with v18-19 set in the future tense. The first saying is affirmative of Peter's perspective, the second concerns the power of the church and the third the authority of the church.

a) "Blessed are you .....", v17. Peter's knowledge that Jesus is the Christ, the messiah, is not human in origin; it is part of God's revelation to humanity. Now that Peter has observed it, Jesus proclaims it.

apokriqeiV (apokrinomai) aor. pas. part. "[Jesus replied]" - having answered [Jesus said]. Attendant circumstance participle expressing action accompanying the verb "said", somewhat redundant (pleonastic); "answered and said" = "Jesus answered him", ESV.

autw/ dat. pro. "-" - to him. Dative of indirect object.

makarioV adj. "blessed" - Possibly "happy", "fortunate", but more in the terms of a spiritual blessing, "favored [of God]", REB.

Bariwna "son of Jonah" - [blessed are you simon] bar-Jona. Matthew gives Peter's family name in the form of a transliteration of the Aramaic "son of Jonah", although in John's gospel it is "son of John", cf. Jn.1:42. Gundry argues that Matthew has changed the name from "John" to "Jonah", wanting to highlight his prophetic status, so "someone like Jonah." Cullmann argues that the name derives from the Akkadian word which means "terrorist", ie., Matthew is alluding to Peter's Zealot background. D&A think this is unlikely.

oJti "for" - Here introducing a causal clause explaining why Peter is blessed; "because ...."

soi dat. pro. "[not revealed] to you" - [flesh and blood did not reveal this] to you. Dative of indirect object.

sarx kai aiJma "by man / by flesh and blood" - Nominative subject of the verb "to reveal." The disciples did not come to this understanding by means of the instruction of a "mortal man", ie., "not merely as the result of human effort and reasoning", Hagner. Peter's understanding is still limited. He had not yet grasped the significance of a suffering messiah. It is, therefore, difficult to understand the full weight of Jesus' words "my Father in heaven" "revealed to you". In what sense is Peter's present understanding of Jesus divinely revealed? Is it a specific revelation, or part of the general revelation of God to humanity. D&A think it is more specific than general in that it is part of God's unveiling of the hidden Messiah. In the end, any knowledge of the Divine is totally dependent upon His self revelation.

all (alla) "but" - Strong adversative serving in a counterpoint construction, "not ..... but ......", as NIV.

oJ "-" - [the father of me] the one. The article serves as an adjectivizer turning the prepositional phrase en toiV ouranoiV into an attributive adjective limiting "Father"; "who is in heaven", ESV.

en + dat. "in [heaven]" - in [the heavens]. Locative, expressing space.


b) "On this rock .....", v18. Jesus plays with Peter's name, a name which means rock, and declares that on this rock he will build his church. Is the "rock" the priority of Peter or his confession of faith? He is certainly the first of many believers who will stand up for Jesus and so become members of God's eternal community. Hell's gates may be strong, but no power of evil can stand against the Lord's army.

kagw de soi legw "and I tell you" - but/and I say to you. An emphatic construction; "you have declared that I am the messiah, and so now I in my turn have a declaration for you, you are Peter / Rock (Rocky!!!)."

oJti "that" - that. Introducing a dependent statement of direct speech expressing Jesus' pronouncement to Peter.

su ei PetroV "you are Peter" - you are peter / rock. Possibly giving Peter a special name, but more likely identifying Peter as the person who has just made this significant statement of faith.

epi + dat. "on" - [and] upon. Basically epi + dat. means "upon, on top of" so presumably the Church metaphorically rests upon / is built upon Peter the Rock as the first representative confessor of Jesus as the Christ, or if his confession itself is in mind, then the Church rests upon / is built upon his confession, namely, that Jesus is the Christ. Either way, Peter / Rocky, and/or his confession, is the foundation upon which the Church is built.

petra/ (a) fem. dat. "rock" - [this] rock, large stone, hewn stone. Predicate nominative, dative after the preposition epi. See notes above.

thn ekklhsian (h) "church" - [i will build] the church, assembly, community, group [of me]. Accusative direct object of the verb "to build." Gathered assembly, not organization.

aJdou (hV ou) gen. "[the gates] of Hades" - [and gates] of the underworld, hades. The genitive is adjectival, possessive, "hell's gates", or idiomatic, "the gates which stand in defense of Hades", .... "Hades" is the place of the dead, the underworld, the realm of death and evil, cf. Job.17:16, Isa.38:10, etc. Hades' gates cannot resist thn ekklhsia, "the church / the fellowship of believers." The gates cannot katiscuw, "exercise mastery over" the church, either in the sense of holding believers in the state of death ("the place of the dead cannot close its gates to imprison the members of Jesus' congregation", Fenton), or able to resist the assault of believers against the domain of darkness. Both options are true, but it is unclear which sense is intended here. The second option seems best: the assembled community of believers, built by Jesus the messiah on Peter and his confession, will not fade away in the passing of time, as have other religions, when confronted by the fortress of evil. Jesus is promising that the evil empire / the whore of Babylon cannot stand against the army of Christ.

katiscusousin (katiscuw) fut. "overcome" - [will not] overcome, overpower, have mastery over. "All the forces of hell itself, having no power to win a victory over it", Cassirer.

authV gen. pro. "it" - Genitive of direct object after the kata prefix verb "to overcome."


c) "Whatever you bind on earth .....", v19. Peter, as the first among many who will confess Jesus as "Son of the living God", is now described as the one who holds the keys of the kingdom. He, along with all those who follow in his footsteps, has the power to open the gates of the kingdom, or to close them, ie. give permission for a person to enter the kingdom, or exclude them from it. This is done through the preaching of the gospel and the announcement of God's condemnation, or forgiveness, depending on the person's rejection or acceptance of the gospel message. The intended meaning of this saying is open to debate. Carson nicely summarizes the 5 problems areas:

• What is the translation of the two periphrastic constructions formed by the future verb to-be and the perfect passive participle, "will be bound" and "will be loosed", NIV?

• Does o}, "whatever", refer to things or people?

• What do the subjective verbs dysh/V, "bind", and lush/V, "loose", actually mean?

• "Does this promise apply to Peter only, to the apostolic band, or to the church at large?"

• "How is the contrast between heaven and earth to be understood?"

• We probably need to add a sixth question: for what purpose is Peter to use the keys?

soi "[I will give] to you" - Dative of indirect object.

taV kleidaV (eiV eidoV) "keys" - the keys. Accusative direct object of the verb "to give." Peter, and by implication all confessing believers, are given the keys to the kingdom as a servant is given the keys to the master's house, ie., they are the managers of God's house, having authority over his house; "the giving of keys manifestly means the bestowing of authority; to have keys means to have power, to be in control", D&A. Yet, to what end is Peter to use the keys? This is defined by v19b, c, since it is likely that the function of the keys is defined by the business of binding and loosing, tying up and untying.

thV basileiaV (a) gen. "of the kingdom" - The genitive is adjectival, attributive, idiomatic, limiting "the keys", probably in the sense of "the keys which open the gates to the kingdom", given that the kingdom is something which is entered, cf. 7:21.

twn ouranwn (oV) gen. "of heaven" - of the heavens. The genitive is adjectival, probably simply attributive, limiting "kingdom"; a "heavenly kingdom" as opposed to an earthly or Satanic kingdom. As usual, Matthew shows deference to God with "the kingdom of heaven" rather than "the kingdom of God", with the genitive "of God" being possessive. Both terms encapsulate the eternal reign of God in and through Christ. See 3:2.

oJ ean + subj. "whatever" - whatever [you may have bound]. This construction is used twice to form two indefinite relative clauses which may be treated as conditional, 3rd. class, where the condition is assumed a possibility; "whatever, as may be the case, .... then ......" Although the relative pronoun o} is neuter, it is sometimes argued that Jesus is referring to people, not things, "whoever you bind", so Carson. None-the-less the majority of commentators argue that, being neuter, it refers to things. The identity of "the things" is determined by the sense of the two verbs "you have bound" and "you have loosed."

epi + gen. "on [earth]" - Spacial; "upon".

estai dedemonon "will be bound" - shall have been bound [in the heavens, and whatever you have loosed upon the earth shall have been loosed in the heavens]. A periphrastic future perfect construction. Chamberlain says of Matthew's deliberate choice of the future perfect here indicates that they are often wrongly translated shall be bound and shall be loosed, seeming to make Jesus teach that the apostles' binding and loosing will determine the policies of heaven. The periphrastic future perfects should be translated shall have been bound and shall have been loosed. This makes the apostles' acts a matter of inspiration or heavenly guidance. So also Turner, "whatsoever thou bindest shall have been permanently bound." The NIV translation implies that our binding and loosing is ratified by God, whereas we are acting on the basis of a previous divine action. It is important to note that the tense of "shall have been bound" and "shall have been loosed" dictates that "Jesus' disciples, in accordance with the gospel of the kingdom, take up the ministry of the keys and bind and loose on earth what has, with the coming of the kingdom, been bound and loosed in heaven", Carson, cf. Acts 18:9-10. See Interpretation above as to what the disciples actually bind and loose. "I will give you the keys to the Kingdom of Heaven. They will enable you to provide or deny entry, according to My will", Junkins, ie., God has already determined who gets in and who doesn't (on the basis of faith in Christ), and the Church simply confirms the divine will.


iv] Jesus reminds his disciples of the importance of maintaining the messianic secret, v20.

tote adv. "then" - Temporal adverb used to indicate a step in the narrative / dialogue.

diesteilato (diastellw) aor. mid. "he warned / ordered" - he strongly commanded. The disciples were told to keep the messianic secret, probably due to the confusion that would develop if messianic fervor got out of hand. The task of calling out the seeker was hard enough without riots getting in the way. "Gave ... strict orders", REB.

toiV maqhtaiV (hV ou) dat. "his disciples" - the disciples. Dative of direct object after the dia prefix verb "to give orders to", a verb that takes a dative of persons.

iJna + subj. "-" - that [they should tell no one]. Introducing an object clause / dependent statement of indirect speech expressing what Jesus commanded / warned his disciples to do; "that they should not tell ...."

oJti "that [he was the Christ]" - that [he is the christ]. Introducing a second dependent statement of indirect speech, expressing what the disciples should not tell. "Then he forbade the disciples to say to anyone, He is (Jesus) the Christ", Berkeley.


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