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