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Matthew 16:13-20 – Peter Confesses Jesus as the Messiah, the Son of the Living God

Summary

In response to Jesus' question, Peter speaks for the disciples and announces that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of the living God. Jesus confirms this confession by Peter as a mark of God's blessing and announces that Peter is the rock upon which he will build his church.

Analysis

This passage has fittingly been acknowledged by many as pivotal and climactic in Matthew's narrative. The whole narrative of Jesus' teaching, preaching, and healing thus far has led to this point. More immediately, the series of stories that have just preceded (13:44-16:12) have repeatedly pressed the issue of faith and discipleship. How will this disciple community read the signs (16:1-4)? What will they make of this Jesus? In Matthew's telling it is assumed that the disciples (and the readers of the Gospel?) will know and expect some things about the Son of Man. So Jesus' question assumes it (16:13; see 16:28; 17:9, 12). What is not clear is how Jesus is to be related to this expectation. After various answers, when pressed again, Peter speaks for the disciples, and thus for Matthew's Gospel and his community, with the assertion that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of the living God (see the title of the Gospel in 1:1).

Several things are noteworthy in this account. First, Jesus, for one of the first times, does not criticize this response as "little faith," but instead commends it for its revelatory power. Consistent with a major theme in Matthew it is described as a mark of God's blessing, a blessing that so often accompanies the status of being a righteous disciple of the kingdom (see 5:1-12; 11:6; 13:16; 24:46). Second, the story recognizes Peter's central role as a representative of the disciples' community in its confession of faith. Here, for the first time in Matthew's Gospel, the titles of Messiah and Son of God are joined together (the only other occurrence is on the mouth of the high priest at Jesus' trial; ironically, there it occasions his being guilty of blasphemy; 26:63-66) as Matthew's community struggles to understand what it means to follow this Jesus as a disciple. Third, it is that community to which Matthew now uniquely calls attention. He alone of the Gospel writers uses the word translated here as "church" (see also 18:17) and links it to talk of the kingdom. Church and kingdom of God are thus bound together in Matthew's conception. Finally, this kingdom community of the church is endowed with the promise of a rich gift, the keys of the kingdom through which, in the name of God, it is invited to exercise the power of forgiveness in the binding and loosing of sin.

Matthew 16:13-20

Peter’s Declaration about Jesus

13 Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, ‘Who do people say that the Son of Man is?’ 14And they said, ‘Some say John the Baptist, but others Elijah, and still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.’ 15He said to them, ‘But who do you say that I am?’ 16Simon Peter answered, ‘You are the Messiah,* the Son of the living God.’ 17And Jesus answered him, ‘Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven. 18And I tell you, you are Peter,* and on this rock* I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it. 19I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.’ 20Then he sternly ordered the disciples not to tell anyone that he was* the Messiah.*

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10 February 2011

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