Matthew 16:21-28 – Jesus Teaching on Discipleship
SummaryImmediately upon Peter's confession of Jesus as Messiah, Jesus now turns his direction toward the cross and foretells his passion, death, and resurrection. He then turns to teach his disciples that in taking up their cross those who follow Jesus will discover that losing one's life for his sake is the way to true life.
AnalysisPeter's confession, a pivotal climax in the Gospel, now turns the narrative of Jesus toward his passion and death. This passage presents the first of three passion predictions (16:21; 17:22-23; 20:17-19) taken over from Mark, but which are greatly adapted in the outline and content of the next chapters that lead up to Matthew's passion narrative proper. Of first importance is the way that this passage and the first announcement of Jesus' passion and death are tied so closely to Peter's confession. Second, here following Mark, the foretelling immediately leads to teaching about discipleship. Thus confession of Jesus as Messiah; the suffering, death, and resurrection of the Messiah; and what it means to follow as a disciple of this Messiah are all bound together in this pivotal section. As noted also in the comments on 4:12-25, some readers have seen in the transitional phrase "From that time on…" (16:21, matching 4:17) a clue to the Matthew's structure and movement, dividing the Gospel into three major sections: the presentation of Jesus Messiah (1:1-4:16); the public ministry of Jesus Messiah (4:17-16:20); and the suffering, death, and resurrection of Jesus Messiah (16:21-28:20).
That Jesus now "shows" rather than "teaches" his disciples what is to happen perhaps marks this event as one of revelation and the gift of special knowledge now being imparted to this disciple community. In the call to take up the cross and follow, discipleship is constituted and linked not just by lofty confession but by being joined to the story of this Messiah, to the life, mission, death, and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth. Peter's attempt to deny the suffering role of the Messiah is met by Jesus' harsh rejection. In ascribing the attempt to Satan, he recalls and equates it with his testing by Satan in the wilderness (4:1-11). In pressing it, Peter has become a "stumbling block" (that is, an "offense"; see the same term in 11:6; 18:6-8; 26:31-33). Disciples are instead called to an obedient giving of self for the neighbor in which hearing and doing are in conformity (see the Sermon on the Mount; 7:12, 21) and the whole of the law is fulfilled. Such conformity comes only by the transforming power of God's blessing and presence in this Messiah. Through his resurrected life in this community, confession and life are bound together in the responsible exercise of love and mercy for the world. This obedient love is encouraged in Jesus' final strong declaration that some standing there will not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom. Here is a clue to Matthew's understanding of the kingdom and a strong reminder to every generation of hearers that we wait in the meantime for a coming which will happen at an unknown hour.