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The Demand for a Sign


The Pharisees and Sadducees came, and to test Jesus they asked him to show them a sign from heaven. 2He answered them, “When it is evening, you say, ‘It will be fair weather, for the sky is red.’ 3And in the morning, ‘It will be stormy today, for the sky is red and threatening.’ You know how to interpret the appearance of the sky, but you cannot interpret the signs of the times. 4An evil and adulterous generation asks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of Jonah.” Then he left them and went away.

The Yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees

5 When the disciples reached the other side, they had forgotten to bring any bread. 6Jesus said to them, “Watch out, and beware of the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” 7They said to one another, “It is because we have brought no bread.” 8And becoming aware of it, Jesus said, “You of little faith, why are you talking about having no bread? 9Do you still not perceive? Do you not remember the five loaves for the five thousand, and how many baskets you gathered? 10Or the seven loaves for the four thousand, and how many baskets you gathered? 11How could you fail to perceive that I was not speaking about bread? Beware of the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees!” 12Then they understood that he had not told them to beware of the yeast of bread, but of the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees.


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.

Jesus Foretells His Death and Resurrection

21 From that time on, Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and undergo great suffering at the hands of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. 22And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, “God forbid it, Lord! This must never happen to you.” 23But he turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; for you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”

The Cross and Self-Denial

24 Then Jesus told his disciples, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 25For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it. 26For what will it profit them if they gain the whole world but forfeit their life? Or what will they give in return for their life?

27 “For the Son of Man is to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay everyone for what has been done. 28Truly I tell you, there are some standing here who will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.”

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Matthew 16:1. And the Pharisees came. Mark says that they began to dispute, from which we may conjecture that, when they had been vanquished in argument, this was their last resource; as obstinate men, whenever they are reduced to extremities, to avoid being compelled to yield to the truth, are accustomed to introduce something which is foreign to the subject. Though the nature of the dispute is not expressed, yet I think it probable that they debated about the calling of Christ, why he ventured to make any innovation, and why he made such lofty pretensions, as if by his coming he had fully restored the kingdom of God. Having nothing farther to object against his doctrine, they demand that he shall give them a sign from heaven. But it is certain that a hundred signs would have no greater effect than the testimonies of Scripture. Besides, many miracles already performed had placed before their eyes the power of Christ, and had almost enabled them to touch it with their hands. Signs, by which Christ made himself familiarly known, are despised by them; and how much less will they derive advantage from a distant and obscure sign? Thus the Papists of our own day, as if the doctrine of the Gospel had not yet been proved, demand that it be ascertained by means of new miracles.

The Pharisees, together with the Sadducees. It deserves our attention that, though the Sadducees and the Pharisees looked upon each other as enemies, and not only cherished bitter hatred, but were continually engaged in hostilities, yet they enter into a mutual league against Christ. In like manner, though ungodly men quarrel among themselves, their internal broils never prevent them from conspiring against God, and entering into a compact for joining their hands in persecuting the truth.

Tempting. By this word the Evangelists mean that it was not with honest intentions, nor from a desire of instruction, but by cunning and deceit, that they demanded what they thought that Christ would refuse, or at least what they imagined was not in his power. Regarding him as utterly mean and despicable, they had no other design than to expose his weakness, and to destroy all the applause which he had hitherto obtained among the people. In this manner unbelievers are said to tempt God, when they murmur at being denied what their fancy prompted them to ask, and charge God with want of power.

2. About the commencement of the evening. By these words Christ reminds them that his power had been sufficiently manifested, so that they must have recognised the time of their visitation, (Luke 19:44,) had they not of their own accord shut their eyes, and refused to admit the clearest light. The comparison which he employs is beautiful and highly appropriate; for, though the aspect of the sky is changeable, so that sometimes a storm unexpectedly arises, and sometimes fair weather springs up when it was not expected, yet the instructions of nature are sufficient to enable men to predict from signs whether the day will be fair or cloudy. Christ therefore asks why they do not recognize the kingdom of God, when it is made known by signs not less manifest; for this proved clearly that they were excessively occupied with earthly and transitory advantages, and cared little about any thing that related to the heavenly and spiritual life, and were blinded not so much by mistake as by voluntary malice.

3. Hypocrites, you can judge. He calls them hypocrites, because they pretend to ask that which, if it were exhibited to them, they are resolved not to observe. The same reproof applies nearly to the whole world; for men direct their ingenuity, and apply their senses, to immediate advantage; and therefore there is scarcely any man who is not sufficiently well qualified in this respect, or at least who is not tolerably acquainted with the means of gaining his object. How comes it then that we feel no concern about the signs by which God invites us to himself? Is it not because every man gives himself up to willing indifference, and extinguishes the light which is offered to him? The calling of Christ, and the immediate exhibition of eternal salvation, were exhibited to the scribes both by the Law and the Prophets, and by his own doctrine, to which miracles were added.

There are many persons of the same description in the present day, who plead that on intricate subjects they have a good right to suspend their judgment, because they must wait till the matter is fully ascertained. They go farther, and believe that it is a mark of prudence purposely to avoid all inquiry into the truth; as if it were not an instance of shameful sloth that, while they are so eagerly solicitous about the objects of the flesh and of the earth, they neglect the eternal salvation of their souls, and at the same time contrive vain excuses for gross and stupid ignorance.

A very absurd inference is drawn by some ignorant persons from this passage, that we are not at liberty to predict from the aspect of the sky whether we shall have fair or stormy weather. It is rather an argument which Christ founds on the regular course of nature, that those men deserve to perish for their ingratitude, who, while they are sufficiently acute in matters of the present life, yet knowingly and willfully quench the heavenly light by their stupidity.

Matthew 16:4. A wicked and adulterous nation. This passage was explained 426426     See page 93 of this volume. under Matthew 12:38. The general meaning is, that the Jews are never satisfied with any signs, but are continually tickled by a wicked desire to tempt God. He does not call them an adulterous nation merely because they demand some kind of sign, (for the Lord sometimes permitted his people to do this,) but because they deliberately provoke God; and therefore he threatens that, after he has risen from the dead, he will be a prophet like Jonah. So Matthew at least says — for Mark does not mention Jonah — but the meaning is the same; for, strictly speaking, this was intended to serve as a sign to them, that Christ, when he had risen from the dead, would in every place cause the voice of his Gospel to be distinctly heard.

Matthew 16:5. And when his disciples came. Here Christ takes occasion from the circumstance that had just occurred 432432     “Ici Christ prenant occasion des propos precedens;” — “here Christ taking occasion from the former discourse.” to exhort his disciples to beware of every abuse that makes an inroad on sincere piety. The Pharisees had come a little before; the Sadducees joined them; and apart from them stood Herod, a very wicked man, and an opponent and corrupter of sound doctrine. In the midst of these dangers it was very necessary to warn his disciples to be on their guard; for, since the human mind has a natural inclination towards vanity and errors, when we are surrounded by wicked inventions, spurious doctrines, and other plagues of the same sort, nothing is more easy than to depart from the true and simple purity of the word of God; and if we once become entangled in these things, it will never be possible for the true religion to hold an entire sway over us. But to make the matter more clear, let us examine closely the words of Christ.

Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees. Along with the Pharisees Matthew mentions the Sadducees Instead of the latter, Mark speaks of Herod Luke takes no notice of any but the Pharisees, (though it is not absolutely certain that it is the same discourse of Christ which Luke relates,) and explains the leaven to be hypocrisy In short, he glances briefly at this sentence, as if there were no ambiguity in the words. Now the metaphor of leaven, which is here applied to false doctrine, might have been employed, at another time, to denote the hypocrisy of life and conduct, or the same words might even have been repeated a second time. But there is no absurdity in saying, that those circumstances which are more copiously detailed by the other two Evangelists, in the order in which they took place, are slightly noticed by Luke in a manner somewhat different, and out of their proper place or order, but without any real contradiction. If we choose to adopt this conjecture, hypocrisy will denote here something different from a pretended and false appearance of wisdom. It will denote the very source and occasion of empty display, which, though it holds out an imposing aspect to the eyes of men, is of no estimation in the sight of God. For, as Jeremiah (5:3) tells us that the eyes of the Lord behold the truth, so they that believe in his word are instructed to maintain true godliness in such a manner as to cleave to righteousness with an honest and perfect heart; as in these words,

An now, O Israel, what doth the Lord require from thee, but that thou shouldst cleave to him with all thy heart, and with all thy soul? (Deuteronomy 10:12.)

On the other hand, the traditions of men, while they set aside spiritual worship, wear a temporary disguise, as if God could be imposed upon by such deceptions; for to whatever extent outward ceremonies may be carried, they are, in the sight of God, nothing more than childish trifles, unless so far as they assist us in the exercise of true piety.

We now perceive the reason why hypocrisy was viewed by Luke as equivalent to doctrines invented by men, and why he included under this name the leavens of men, which only puff up, and in the sight of God contain nothing solid, and which even draw aside the minds of men from the right study of piety to empty and insignificant ceremonies. But it will be better to abide by the narrative of Matthew, which is more copious. The disciples, after having been reproved by our Lord, came at length to understand that he had charged them to be on their guard against certain doctrine. It was plainly, therefore, the intention of Christ to fortify them against prevailing abuses, by which they were attacked on all sides. The Pharisees and Sadducees were expressly named, because those two sects maintained at that time a tyrannical sway in the Church, and held opinions so utterly subversive of the doctrine of the Law and the Prophets, that almost nothing remained pure and entire.

But Herod did not in any way profess to teach; and a question arises, why does Mark class him with false teachers? Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees, and Of The Leaven Of Herod. I reply: he was half a Jew, was mean and treacherous, and availed himself of every contrivance that was within his reach to draw the people to his side; for it is customary with all apostates to contrive some mixture, for the purpose of establishing a new religion by which the former may be abolished. It was because he was laboring craftily to subvert the principles of true and ancient piety, and thus to give currency to a religion that would be exceedingly adapted to his tyranny, or rather because he was endeavoring to introduce some new form of Judaism, that our Lord most properly charged them to beware of his leaven. From the temple of God the scribes disseminated their errors, and the court of Herod was another workshop of Satan, in which errors of a different kind were manufactured.

Thus in our own day we find that not only from Popish temples, and from the dens of sophists and monks, does Antichrist vomit out her impostures, but that there is a Theology of the Court, which lends its aid to prop up the throne of Antichrist, so that no stratagem is left untried. But as Christ opposed the evils which then prevailed, and as he aroused the minds of his followers to guard against those which were the most dangerous, let us learn from his example to make a prudent inquiry what are the abuses that may now do us injury. Sooner shall water mix with fire than any man shall succeed in reconciling the inventions of the Pope with the Gospel. Whoever desires to become honestly a disciple of Christ, must be careful to keep his mind pure from those leavens; and if he has already imbibed them, he must labor to purify himself till none of their polluting effects remain. There are restless men, on the other hand, who have endeavored in various ways to corrupt sound doctrine, and, in guarding also against such impostures, believers must maintain a strict watch, that they may keep a perpetual Passover

with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth,
(1 Corinthians 5:8.)

And as on every hand there now rages an impiety like that of Lucian, 433433     “L’mpiete des Lucianistes et des Atheistes;” — “the impiety of the Lucianists and Atheists.” Lucian, a celebrated Greek writer, of the second century of the Christian era, author of Dialogues of the Dead, is here alluded to as the type of scoffers and Atheists. His subject naturally led him to treat with sportive humor the solenmities of death and the future judgment; and the wit and elegance of his pen, had it been guided by ordinary caution, would have been readily — far too readily — sustained as an apology for the tone of his work. But in defiance of the ordinary feelings of mankind, he attacked so fearlessly the most sacred truths, and offended the ear of modesty by such indecent allusions, that his character as a man has been stamped with infamy. Modern times have scarcely produced so daring an infidel, with the exception perhaps of Voltaire, who took no pains to conceal his intense hatred of Christianity and of good men. Had he appeared earlier, his name might perhaps have been substituted for that of Lucian, as the representative of his class. — Ed. a most pernicious leaven, or rather a worse than deadly poison, let them exercise this very needful caution, and apply to it all their senses.

8. Why do you think within yourselves, etc.? The disciples again show how little they had profited by the instructions of their Master, and by his wonderful works. What he had said about being on their guard against the leaven is rashly interpreted by them as if Christ intended only to withdraw them from outward intercourse. As it was customary among the Jews not to take food in company with irreligious men, the disciples imagine that the Pharisees were classed with such persons. This ignorance might perhaps have been endured; but they are forgetful of a favor which they lately received, and do not consider that Christ has the remedy his power to hinder them from being compelled to pollute themselves by meat and drink, and therefore he reproves them sharply, as they deserved. And certainly it was shameful ingratitude that, after having seen bread created out of nothing, and in such abundance as to satisfy many thousands of men, and after having seen this done twice, they are now anxious about bread, as if their Master did not always possess the same power. From these words we infer that all who have once or twice experienced the power of God, and distrust it for the future are convicted of unbelief; for it is faith that cherishes in our hearts the remembrance of the gifts of God, and faith must have been laid asleep, if we allow them to be forgotten.

12. Then they understood. The word leaven is very evidently used by Christ as contrasted with the pure and uncorrupted word of God. In a former passage, (Matthew 13:33,) Christ had used the word in a good sense, when he said that the Gospel resembled leaven; 434434     See page 127 of this volume. but for the most part this word is employed in Scripture to denote some foreign substance, by which the native purity of any thing is impaired. In this passage, the naked truth of God, and the inventions which men contrive out of their own brain, are unquestionably the two things that are contrasted. The sophist must not hope to escape by saying that this ought not to be understood as applicable to every kind of doctrine; for it will be impossible to find any doctrine but what has come from God that deserves the name of pure and unleavened Hence it follows that leaven is the name given to every foreign admixture; as Paul also tells us that faith is rendered spurious, as soon as we are

drawn aside from the simplicity of Christ,
(2 Corinthians 11:3.)

It must now be apparent who are the persons of whose doctrine our Lord charges us to beware. The ordinary government of the Church was at that time in the hands of the scribes and priests, among whom the Pharisees held the highest rank. As Christ expressly charges his followers to beware of their doctrine, it follows that all who mingle their own inventions with the word of God, or who advance any thing that does not belong to it, must be rejected, how honorable soever may be their rank, or whatever proud titles they may wear. Accursed and rebellious, therefore, is the obedience of those who voluntarily submit to the inventions and laws of the Pope.

Matthew 16:13. And when Jesus came to the coasts of Cesarea Philippi. Mark says that this conversation took place during the journey. Luke says that it took place while he was praying, and while there were none in company with him but his disciples. Matthew is not so exact in mentioning the time. All the three unquestionably relate the same narrative; and it is possible that Christ may have stopped at a certain place during that journey to pray, and that afterwards he may have put the question to his disciples. There were two towns called Cesarea, of which the former was more celebrated, and had been anciently called The Tower of Strato; while the latter, which is mentioned here, was situated at the foot of Mount Lebanon, not far from the river Jordan. It is for the sake of distinguishing between these two towns that Philippi is added to the name; for though it is conjectured by some to have been built on the same spot where the town of Dan formerly stood, yet, as it had lately been rebuilt by Philip the Tetrarch, it was called Philippi 437437     “On la nommoit Cesaree de Philippe;” — “it was named Cesarea of Philip.”

Who do men say that I am? This might be supposed to mean, What was the current rumor about the Redeemer, who became the Son of man? But the question is quite different, What do men think about Jesus the Son of Mary? He calls himself, according to custom, the Son of man, as much as to say, Now that clothed in flesh I inhabit the earth like other men, what is the opinion entertained respecting me? The design of Christ was, to confirm his disciples fully in the true faith, that they might not be tossed about amidst various reports, as we shall presently see.

14. Some [say,] John the Baptist. This inquiry does not relate to the open enemies of Christ, nor to ungodly scoffers, but to the sounder and better part of the people, who might be called the choice and flower of the Church. Those only are mentioned by the disciples who spoke of Christ with respect; and yet, though they aimed at the truth, not one of them reaches that point, but all go astray in their vain fancies. Hence we perceive how great is the weakness of the human mind; for not only is it unable of itself to understand what is right or true, but even out of true principles it coins errors. Besides, though Christ is the only standard of harmony and peace, by which God gathers the whole world to himself, the greater part of men seize on this subject as the occasion of prolonged strife. Among the Jews, certainly, the unity of faith related solely to Christ; and yet they who formerly appeared to have some sort of agreement among themselves now split into a variety of sects.

We see too how one error quickly produces another; for a preconceived opinion, which had taken a firm hold of the minds of the common people, that souls passed from one body to another, made them more ready to adopt this groundless fancy. But though, at the time of Christ’s coming, the Jews were divided in this manner, such a diversity of opinions ought not to have hindered the godly from desiring to attain the pure knowledge of him. For if any man, under such a pretense, had given himself up to sloth, and neglected to seek Christ, we would have been forced to declare that there was no excuse for him. Much less then will any man escape the judgment of God who is led by the variety of sects to entertain a dislike of Christ, or who, disgusted by the false opinions of men, does not deign to attach himself to Christ.

15. But who do you say that I am? Here Christ distinguishes his disciples from the rest of the crowd, to make it more fully evident that, whatever differences may exist among others, we at least ought not to be led aside from the unity of faith. They who shall honestly submit to Christ, and shall not attempt to mix with the Gospel any inventions of their own brain, will never want the true light. But here the greatest vigilance is necessary, that, though the whole world may be carried away by its own inventions, believers may continually adhere to Christ. As Satan could not rob the Jews of the conviction which they derived from the Law and the Prophets, that Christ would come, he changed him into various shapes, and, as it were, cut him in pieces. His next scheme was, to bring forward many pretended Christs, that they might lose sight of the true Redeemer. By similar contrivances, he continued ever afterwards either to tear Christ in pieces, or to exhibit him under a false character. Among the confused and discordant voices of the world, let this voice of Christ perpetually sound in our ears, which calls us away from unsettled and wavering men, that we may not follow the multitude, and that our faith may not be tossed about amongst the billows of contending opinions.

16. Thou art the Christ. The confession is short, but it embraces all that is contained in our salvation; for the designation Christ, or Anointed, includes both an everlasting Kingdom and an everlasting Priesthood, to reconcile us to God, and, by expiating our sins through his sacrifice, to obtain for us a perfect righteousness, and, having received us under his protection, to uphold and supply and enrich us with every description of blessings. Mark says only, Thou art the Christ. Luke says, Thou art the Christ of God But the meaning is the same; for the Christs (χριστοί) of God was the appellation anciently bestowed on kings, who had been anointed by the divine command. 438438     See Harmony, vol. 1, p. 92, n. 2; p. 142, n. 2. And this phrase had been previously employed by Luke, (2:26,) when he said that Simeon had been informed by a revelation from heaven that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ For the redemption, which God manifested by the hand of his Son, was clearly divine; and therefore it was necessary that he who was to be the Redeemer should come from heaven, bearing the impress of the anointing of God. Matthew expresses it still more clearly, Thou art the Son of the living God; for, though Peter did not yet understand distinctly in what way Christ was the begotten of God, he was so fully persuaded of the dignity of Christ, that he believed him to come from God, not like other men, but by the inhabitation of the true and living Godhead in his flesh. When the attribute living is ascribed to God, it is for the purpose of distinguishing between Him and dead idols, who are nothing, (1 Corinthians 8:4.)

17. Blessed art thou, Simon Bar-Jona. As

this is life eternal, to know the only true God,
and him whom he hath sent, Jesus Christ, (John 17:3,)

Christ justly pronounces him to be blessed who has honestly made such a confession. This was not spoken in a peculiar manner to Peter alone, but our Lord’s purpose was, to show in what the only happiness of the whole world consists. That every one may approach him with greater courage, we must first learn that all are by nature miserable and accursed, till they find a remedy in Christ. Next, we must add, that whoever has obtained Christ wants nothing that is necessary to perfect happiness, since we have no right to desire any thing better than the eternal glory of God, of which Christ puts us in possession.

Flesh and blood hath not revealed it to thee. In the person of one man Christ reminds all that we must ask faith from the Father, and acknowledge it to the praise of his grace; for the special illumination of God is here contrasted with flesh and blood. Hence we infer, that the minds of men are destitute of that sagacity which is necessary for perceiving the mysteries of heavenly wisdom which are hidden in Christ; and even that all the senses of men are deficient in this respect, till God opens our eyes to perceive his glory in Christ. Let no man, therefore, in proud reliance on his own abilities, attempt to reach it, but let us humbly suffer ourselves to be inwardly taught by the Father of Lights, (James 1:17,) that his Spirit alone may enlighten our darkness. And let those who have received faith, acknowledging the blindness which was natural to them, learn to render to God the glory that is due to Him.

18. And I say to thee. By these words Christ declares how highly he is delighted with the confession of Peter, since he bestows upon it so large a reward. For, though he had already given to his disciple, Simon, the name of Peter, (Matthew 10:2; John 1:42,) and had, out of his undeserved goodness, appointed him to be an apostle, yet these gifts, though freely bestowed, 439439     “Ces dons qui estoyent procedez de sa pure liberalite;” — “those gifts which had proceeded altogether from his liberality.” are here ascribed to faith as if they had been a reward, which we not unfrequently find in Scripture. Peter receives a twofold honor, the former part of which relates to his personal advantage, and the latter to his office as an Apostle.

Thou art Peter. By these words our Lord assures him that it was not without a good reason that he had formerly given him this name, because, as a living stone (1 Peter 2:5) in the temple of God, he retains his stedfastness. This extends, no doubt, to all believers, each of whom is a temple of God, (l Corinthians 6:19,) and who, united to each other by faith, make together one temple, (Ephesians 2:21.) But it denotes also the distinguished excellence of Peter above the rest, as each in his own order receives more or less, according to the measure of the gift of Christ, (Ephesians 4:7.)

And on this rock. Hence it is evident how the name Peter comes to be applied both to Simon individually, and to other believers. It is because they are founded on the faith of Christ, and joined together, by a holy consent, into a spiritual building, that God may dwell in the midst of them, (Ezekiel 43:7.) For Christ, by announcing that this would be the common foundation of the whole Church, intended to associate with Peter all the godly that would ever exist in the world. “You are now,” said he, “a very small number of men, and therefore the confession which you have now made is not at present supposed to have much weight; but ere long a time will arrive when that confession shall assume a lofty character, and shall be much more widely spread.” And this was eminently fitted to excite his disciples to perseverance, that though their faith was little known and little esteemed, yet they had been chosen by the Lord as the first-fruits, that out of this mean commencement there might arise a new Church, which would prove victorious against all the machinations of hell.

Shall not prevail against it. The pronoun it (αὐτὢς) may refer either to faith or to the Church; but the latter meaning is more appropriate. Against all the power of Satan the firmness of the Church will prove to be invincible, because the truth of God, on which the faith of the Church rests, will ever remain unshaken. And to this statement corresponds that saying of John,

This is the victory which overcometh the world, your faith,
(1 John 5:4.)

It is a promise which eminently deserves our observation, that all who are united to Christ, and acknowledge him to be Christ and Mediator, will remain to the end safe from all danger; for what is said of the body of the Church belongs to each of its members, since they are one in Christ. Yet this passage also instructs us, that so long as the Church shall continue to be a pilgrim on the earth, she will never enjoy rest, but will be exposed to many attacks; for, when it is declared that Satan will not conquer, this implies that he will be her constant enemy. While, therefore, we rely on this promise of Christ, feel ourselves at liberty to boast against Satan, and already triumph by faith over all his forces; let us learn, on the other hand, that this promise is, as it were, the sound of a trumpet, calling us to be always ready and prepared for battle. By the word gates (πύλαι) is unquestionably meant every kind of power and of weapons of war.

19. And I will give thee the keys Here Christ begins now to speak of the public office, that is, of the Apostleship, which he dignifies with a twofold title. First, he says that the ministers of the Gospel are porters, so to speak, of the kingdom of heaven, because they carry its keys; and, secondly, he adds, that they are invested with a power of binding and loosing, which is ratified in heaven. 440440     “Laquelle est receue et advouee es cieux;” — “which is received and acknowledged in heaven.” The comparison of the keys is very properly applied to the office of teaching; as when Christ says (Luke 11:52) that the scribes and Pharisees, in like manner, have the key of the kingdom of heaven, because they are expounders of the law. We know that there is no other way in which the gate of life is opened to us than by the word of God; and hence it follows that the key is placed, as it were, in the hands of the ministers of the word.

Those who think that the word keys is here used in the plural number, because the Apostles received a commission not only to open but also to shut, have some probability on their side; but if any person choose to take a more simple view of the meaning, let him enjoy his own opinion. 441441     “Ie n’y contredi point;” — “I do not contradict him in it.” Here a question arises, Why does the Lord promise that he will give to Peter what he appeared to have formerly given him by making him an Apostle? But this question has been already answered, 442442     Harmony, vol. 1, p. 437. when I said that the twelve were at first (Matthew 10:5) nothing more than temporary preachers, 443443     “Ambassadeurs ou prescheurs temporels;” — “temporary messengers or preachers.” and so, when they returned to Christ, they had executed their commission; but after that Christ had risen from the dead, they then began to be appointed to be ordinary teachers of the Church. It is in this sense that the honor is now bestowed for the future.

Whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth. The second metaphor, or comparison, is intended directly to point out the forgiveness of sins; for Christ, in delivering us, by his Gospel, from the condemnation of eternal death, looses the cords of the curse by which we are held bound. The doctrine of the Gospel is, therefore, declared to be appointed for loosing our bonds, that, being loosed on earth by the voice and testimony of men, we may be actually loosed in heaven. But as there are many who not only are guilty of wickedly rejecting the deliverance that is offered to them, but by their obstinacy bring down on themselves a heavier judgment, the power and authority to bind is likewise granted to the ministers of the Gospel. It must be observed, however, that this does not belong to the nature of the Gospel, but is accidental; as Paul also informs us, when, speaking of the vengeance which he tells us that he has it in his power to execute against all unbelievers and rebels, he immediately adds,

When your obedience shall have been fulfilled,
(2 Corinthians 10:6.)

For were it not that the reprobate, through their own fault, turn life into death, the Gospel would be to all the power of God to salvation, (Romans 1:16;) but as many persons no sooner hear it than their impiety openly breaks out, and provokes against them more and more the wrath of God, to such persons its savor must be deadly, (2 Corinthians 2:16.)

The substance of this statement is, that Christ intended to assure his followers of the salvation promised to them in the Gospel, that they might expect it as firmly as if he were himself to descend from heaven to bear testimony concerning it; and, on the other hand, to strike despisers with terror, that they might not expect their mockery of the ministers of the word to remain unpunished. Both are exceedingly necessary; for the inestimable treasure of life is exhibited to us in earthen vessels, (2 Corinthians 4:7,) and had not the authority of the doctrine been established in this manner, the faith of it would have been, almost every moment, ready to give way. 444444     “D’heure en heure elle seroit revoquee en doute;” — “from hour to hour it would be called in question.” The reason why the ungodly become so daring and presumptuous is, that they imagine they have to deal with men. Christ therefore declares that, by the preaching of the Gospel, is revealed on the earth what will be the heavenly judgment of God, and that the certainty of life or death is not to be obtained from any other source.

This is a great honor, that we are God’s messengers to assure the world of its salvation. It is the highest honor conferred on the Gospel, that it is declared to be the embassy of mutual reconciliation between God and men, (2 Corinthians 5:20.) In a word, it is a wonderful consolation to devout minds to know that the message of salvation brought to them by a poor mortal man is ratified before God. Meanwhile, let the ungodly ridicule, as they may think fit, the doctrine which is preached to them by the command of God, they will one day learn with what truth and seriousness God threatened them by the mouth of men. Finally, let pious teachers, resting on this assurance, encourage themselves and others to defend with boldness the life-giving grace of God, and yet let them not the less boldly thunder against the hardened despisers of their doctrine.

Hitherto I have given a plain exposition of the native meaning of the words, so that nothing farther could have been desired, had it not been that the Roman Antichrist, wishing to cloak his tyranny, has wickedly and dishonestly dared to pervert the whole of this passage. The light of the true interpretation which I have stated would be of itself sufficient, one would think, for dispelling his darkness; but that pious readers may feel no uneasiness, I shall briefly refute his disgusting calumnies. First, he alleges that Peter is declared to be the foundation of the Church. But who does not see that what he applies to the person of a man is said in reference to Peter’s faith in Christ? There is no difference of meaning, I acknowledge, between the two Greek words Πέτρος (Peter) and πέτρα, (petra, a stone or rock,) 445445     “Ie confesse bien qu’en la langue Grecque il n’y a pas grande difference entre le mot qui signifie une pierre, et celuy qui signifie un homme nomme Pierre;” — “I readily acknowledge that, in the Greek language, there is no great difference between the word that signifies a stone, and that which signifies a man named Peter. except that the former belongs to the Attic, and the latter to the ordinary dialect. But we are not to suppose that Matthew had not a good reason for employing this diversity of expression. On the contrary, the gender of the noun was intentionally changed, to show that he was now speaking of something different. 446446     “A fin de monstrer qu’au second lieu il parloit de quelque autre chose que de la personne de Pierre;” — “in order to show that, in the latter clause, he was speaking of something totally different from the person of Peter.” A distinction of the same sort, I have no doubt, was pointed out by Christ in his own language; 447447     By Christ’s own language is meant the Syriaca dialect of Hebrew — which is supposed to have been the vernacular language of Palestine in the time of our Lord, and consequently to have been spoken by him and his apostles. It is enough for our present purpose that CALVIN adopted this hypothesis, whatever may be the result of a controversy in which the claims of the Greek language above the Syriac, as familiarly spoken and written in Syria at that period, have been urged with vast learning and ability. — Ed. and therefore Augustine judiciously reminds the reader that it is not πέτρα (petra, a stone or rock) that is derived from Πέτρος, (Peter,) but Πέτρος (Peter) that is derived from πέτρα, (petra, a stone or rock )

But not to be tedious, as we must acknowledge the truth and certainty of the declaration of Paul, that the Church can have no other foundation than Christ alone, (1 Corinthians 3:11; Ephesians 2:20,) it can be nothing less than blasphemy and sacrilege when the Pope has contrived another foundation. And certainly no words can express the detestation with which we ought to regard the tyranny of the Papal system on this single account, that, in order to maintain it, the foundation of the Church has been subverted, that the mouth of hell might be opened and swallow up wretched souls. Besides, as I have already hinted, that part does not refer to Peter’s public office, but only assigns to him a distinguished place among the sacred stones of the temple. The commendations that follow relate to the Apostolic office; and hence we conclude that nothing is here said to Peter which does not apply equally to the others who were his companions, for if the rank of apostleship was common to them all, whatever was connected with it must also have been held in common.

But it will be said, Christ addresses Peter alone: he does so, because Peter alone, in the name of all, had confessed Christ to be the Son of God, and to him alone is addressed the discourse, which applies equally to the rest. And the reason adduced by Cyprian and others is not to be despised, that Christ spake to all in the person of one man, in order to recommend the unity of the Church. They reply, 448448     “Les Romanisques repliquent a l’encontre;” — “the Romanists reply on the other hand.” that he to whom this privilege was granted in a peculiar manner is preferred to all others. But that is equivalent to saying that he was more an apostle than his companions; for the power to bind and to loose can no more be separated from the office of teaching and the Apostleship than light or heat can be separated from the sun. And even granting that something more was bestowed on Peter than on the rest, that he might hold a distinguished place among the Apostles, it is a foolish inference of the Papists, that he received the primacy, and became the universal head of the whole Church. Rank is a different thing from power, and to be elevated to the highest place of honor among a few persons is a different thing from embracing the whole world under his dominion. And in fact, Christ laid no heavier burden on him than he was able to bear. He is ordered to be the porter of the kingdom of heaven; he is ordered to dispense the grace of God by binding and loosing; that is, as far as the power of a mortal man reaches. All that was given to him, therefore, must be limited to the measure of grace which he received for the edification of the Church; and so that vast dominion, which the Papists claim for him, falls to the ground.

But though there were no strife or controversy about Peter, 449449     “Mais mettons le cas que ce qu’ils disent de Pierre soit hors de doute;” — “but let us suppose that what they say about Peter were beyond a doubt.” still this passage would not lend countenance to the tyranny of the Pope. For no man in his senses will admit the principle which the Papists take for granted, that what is here granted to Peter was intended to be transmitted by him to posterity by hereditary right; for he does not receive permission to give any thing to his successors. So then the Papists make him bountiful with what is not his own. Finally, though the uninterrupted succession were fully established, still the Pope will gain nothing by it till he has proved himself to be Peter’s lawful successor. And how does he prove it? Because Peter died at Rome; as if Rome, by the detestable murder of the Apostle, had procured for herself the primacy. But they allege that he was also bishop there. How frivolous 450450     “Combien cela est faux et frivole;” — “how false and frivolous it is.” that allegation is, I have made abundantly evident in my Institutes, (Book 4, Chapter 6,) to which I would willingly send my reader for a complete discussion of this argument, rather than annoy or weary him by repeating it in this place. Yet I would add a few words. Though the Bishop of Rome had been the lawful successor of Peter, since by his own treachery he has deprived himself of so high an honor, all that Christ bestowed on the successors of Peter avails him nothing. That the Pope’s court resides at Rome is sufficiently known, but no mark of a Church there can be pointed out. As to the pastoral office, his eagerness to shun it is equal to the ardor with which he contends for his own dominion. Certainly, if it were true that Christ has left nothing undone to exalt the heirs of Peter, still he was not so lavish as to part with his own honor to bestow it on apostates.

Having given a proof of his future glory, Christ reminds his disciples of what he must suffer, that they also may be prepared to bear the cross; for the time was at hand when they must enter into the contest, to which he knew them to be altogether unequal, if they had not been fortified by fresh courage. And first of all, it was necessary to inform them that Christ must commence his reign, not with gaudy display, not with the magnificence of riches, not with the loud applause of the world, but with an ignominious death. But nothing was harder than to rise superior to such an offense; particularly if we consider the opinion which they firmly entertained respecting their Master; for they imagined that he would procure for them earthly happiness. This unfounded expectation held them in suspense, and they eagerly looked forward to the hour when Christ would suddenly reveal the glory of his reign. So far were they from having ever adverted to the ignominy of the cross, that they considered it to be utterly unsuitable that he should be placed in any circumstances from which he did not receive honor. 459459     “Que rien luy peust advenir qui ne fust honorable et magnifique;” — “that any thing should happen to him which was not honorable and magnificent.” To them it was a distressing occurrence that he should be rejected by the elders and the scribes, who held the government of the Church; and hence we may readily conclude that this admonition was highly necessary. But as the bare mention of the cross must, of necessity, have occasioned heavy distress to their weak minds, he presently heals the wound by saying, that on the third day he will rise again from the dead. And certainly, as there is nothing to be seen in the cross but the weakness of the flesh, till we come to his resurrection, in which the power of the Spirit shines brightly, our faith will find no encouragement or support. In like manner, all ministers of the Word, who desire that their preaching may be profitable, ought to be exceedingly careful that the glory of his resurrection should be always exhibited by them in connection with the ignominy of his death.

But we naturally wonder why Christ refuses to accept as witnesses the Apostles, whom he had already appointed to that office; for why were they sent but to be the heralds of that redemption which depended on the coming of Christ? The answer is not difficult, if we keep in mind the explanations which I have given on this subject: first, that they were not appointed teachers for the purpose of bearing full and certain testimony to Christ, but only to procure disciples for their Master; that is, to induce those who were too much the victims of sloth to become teachable and attentive; and; secondly, that their commission was temporary, for it ended when Christ himself began to preach. As the time of his death was now at hand, and as they were not yet fully prepared to testify their faith, but, on the contrary, were so weak in faith, that their confession of it would have exposed them to ridicule, the Lord enjoins them to remain silent till others shall have acknowledged him to be the conqueror of death, and till he shall have endued them with increased firmness.

Matthew 16:22. And Peter, taking him aside, began to rebuke him. It is a proof of the excessive zeal of Peter, that he reproves his Master; though it would appear that the respect he entertained for him was his reason for taking him aside, because he did not venture to reprove him in presence of others. Still, it was highly presumptuous in Peter to advise our Lord to spare himself, as if he had been deficient in prudence or self-command. But so completely are men hurried on and driven headlong by inconsiderate zeal, that they do not hesitate to pass judgment on God himself, according to their own fancy. Peter views it as absurd, that the Son of God, who was to be the Redeemer of the nation, should be crucified by the elders, and that he who was the Author of life should be condemned to die. He therefore endeavors to restrain Christ from exposing himself to death. The reasoning is plausible; but we ought without hesitation to yield greater deference to the opinion of Christ than to the zeal of Peter, whatever excuse he may plead.

And here we learn what estimation in the sight of God belongs to what are called good intentions. So deeply is pride rooted in the hearts of men, that they think wrong is done them, and complain, if God does not comply with every thing that they consider to be right. With what obstinacy do we see the Papists boasting of their devotions! But while they applaud themselves in this daring manner, God not only rejects what they believe to be worthy of the highest praise, but even pronounces a severe censure on its folly and wickedness. Certainly, if the feeling and judgment of the flesh be admitted, Peter’s intention was pious, or at least it looked well. And yet Christ could not have conveyed his censure in harsher or more disdainful language. Tell me, what is the meaning of that stern reply? How comes it that he who so mildly on all occasions guarded against breaking even a bruised reed, (Isaiah 42:3,) thunders so dismally against a chosen disciple? The reason is obvious, that in the person of one man he intended to restrain all from gratifying their own passions. Though the lusts of the flesh, as they resemble wild beasts, are difficult to be restrained, yet there is no beast more furious than the wisdom of the flesh. It is on this account that Christ reproves it so sharply, and bruises it, as it were, with an iron hammer, to teach us that it is only from the word of God that we ought to be wise.

23. Get thee behind me, Satan. It is idle to speculate, as some have done, about the word (ὀπίσω) behind; as if Peter were ordered to follow, and not to go before; for, in a passage which we have already considered, Luke (4:8) informs us that our Lord used those very words in repelling the attacks of Satan, and the verb ὕπαγε (from which the Latin word Apage is derived) signifies to withdraw 460460     “Le mot Grec signifie simplement se reculer et s’en aller;” — “the Greek word simply means to withdraw and go away. Christ therefore throws his disciple to a distance from him, because, in his inconsiderate zeal, he acted the part of Satan; for he does not simply call him adversary, but gives him the name of the devil, as an expression of the greatest abhorrence.

Thou art an offense to me; for thou relishest not those things which are of God, but those which are of men. We must attend to this as the reason assigned by our Lord for sending Peter away from him. Peter was an offense to Christ, so long as he opposed his calling; for, when Peter attempted to stop the course of his Master, it was not owing to him that he did not deprive himself and all mankind of eternal salvation. This single word, therefore, shows with what care we ought to avoid every thing that withdraws us from obedience to God. And Christ opens up the original source of the whole evil, when he says that Peter relishes those things which are of men. 461461     “Que Pierre s’arreste a la sagesse de l’homme;” — “that Peter rests satisfied with the wisdom of man.” Lest we and our intentions should be sent away by our heavenly Judge to the devil, 462462     “Et pourtant de peur que le Iuge celeste ne nous renvoye au diable avec nos bonnes affections et intentions;” — “and then lest our heavenly Judge should send us away to the devil with our good feelings and intentions.” let us learn not to be too much attached to our own views, but submissively to embrace whatever the Lord approves. Let the Papists now go and extol their notions to the skies. They will one day learn, when they appear before the judgment-seat of God, what is the value of their boasting, which Christ declares to be from Satan And with regard to ourselves, if we do not, of our own accord, resolve to shut ourselves out from the way of salvation by deadly obstacles, let us not desire to be wise in any other manner than from the mouth of God.

24. Then Jesus said to his disciples. As Christ saw that Peter had a dread of the cross, and that all the rest were affected in the same way, he enters into a general discourse about bearing the cross, and does not limit his address to the twelve apostles, but lays down the same law for all the godly. 463463     “A tous fideles;” — “to all believers.” We have already met with a statement nearly similar, (Matthew 10:38.) 464464     Harmony, vol. 1 p. 472. But in that passage the apostles were only reminded of the persecution which awaited them, as soon as they should begin to discharge their office; while a general instruction is here conveyed, and the initiatory lessons, so to speak, inculcated on all who profess to believe the Gospel.

If any man will come after me. These words are used for the express purpose of refuting the false views of Peter 465465     “Pour refuter l’imagination que Pierre avoit en son corveau;” — “to refute the imagination which Peter had in his brain.” Presenting himself to every one as an example of self-denial and of patience, he first shows that it was necessary for him to endure what Peter reckoned to be inconsistent with his character, and next invites every member of his body to imitate him. The words must be explained in this manner: “If any man would be my disciple, let him follow me by denying himself and taking up his cross, or, let him conform himself to my example.” The meaning is, that none can be reckoned to be the disciples of Christ unless they are true imitators of him, and are willing to pursue the same course.

He lays down a brief rule for our imitation, in order to make us acquainted with the chief points in which he wishes us to resemble him. It consists of two parts, self-denial and a voluntary bearing of the cross. Let him deny himself. This self-denial is very extensive, and implies that we ought to give up our natural inclinations, and part with all the affections of the flesh, and thus give our consent to be reduced to nothing, provided that God lives and reigns in us. We know with what blind love men naturally regard themselves, how much they are devoted to themselves, how highly they estimate themselves. But if we desire to enter into the school of Christ, we must begin with that folly to which Paul (1 Corinthians 3:18) exhorts us, becoming fools, that we may be wise; and next we must control and subdue all our affections.

And let him take up his cross. He lays down this injunction, because, though there are common miseries to which the life of men is indiscriminately subjected, yet as God trains his people in a peculiar manner, in order that they may be conformed to the image of his Son, we need not wonder that this rule is strictly addressed to them. It may be added that, though God lays both on good and bad men the burden of the cross, yet unless they willingly bend their shoulders to it, they are not said to bear the cross; for a wild and refractory horse cannot be said to admit his rider, though he carries him. The patience of the saints, therefore, consists in bearing willingly the cross which has been laid on them. 466466     “A porter la croix qua Dieu leur met sur les epaules;” — “in bearing the cross which God lays on their shoulders.” Luke adds the word dailylet him take up his cross Daily — which is very emphatic; for Christ’s meaning is, that there will be no end to our warfare till we leave the world. Let it be the uninterrupted exercise of the godly, that when many afflictions have run their course, they may be prepared to endure fresh afflictions.

25. For he that would save his life shall lose it. It is a most appropriate consolation, that they who willingly suffer death for the sake of Christ 467467     “Ceux qui meurent alaigrement pour Christ;” — “those who die cheerfully for Christ.” do actually obtain life; for Mark expressly states this as the motive to believers in dying — for my sake, and for the sake of the Gospel — and in the words of Matthew the same thing must be understood. It frequently happens that irreligious men are prompted by ambition or despair to despise life; and to such persons it will be no advantage that they are courageous in meeting death. The threatening, which is contrasted with the promise, has also a powerful tendency to shake off carnal sloth, when he reminds men who are desirous of the present life, that the only advantage which they reap is, to lose life. There is a contrast intended here between temporal and eternal death, as we have explained under Matthew 10:39, where the reader will find the rest of this subject. 468468     Harmony, vol. 1 p. 472.

26. For what doth it profit a man? The word soul is here used in the strictest sense. Christ reminds them that the soul of man was not created merely to enjoy the world for a few days, but to obtain at length its immortality in heaven. What carelessness and what brutal stupidity is this, that men are so strongly attached to the world, and so much occupied with its affairs, as not to consider why they were born, and that God gave them an immortal soul, in order that, when the course of the earthly life was finished, they might live eternally in heaven! And, indeed, it is universally acknowledged, that the soul is of higher value than all the riches and enjoyments of the world; but yet men are so blinded by carnal views, that they knowingly and willfully abandon their souls to destruction. That the world may not fascinate us by its allurements, let us remember the surpassing worth of our soul; for if this be seriously considered, it will easily dispel the vain imaginations of earthly happiness.

27. For the Son of man will come. That the doctrine which has just been laid down may more deeply affect our minds, Christ places before our eyes the future judgment; for if we would perceive the worthlessness of this fading life, we must be deeply affected by the view of the heavenly life. So tardy and sluggish is our mind, that it needs to be aided by looking towards heaven. Christ summons believers to his judgment-seat, to lead them to reflect at all times that they lived for no other object than to long after that blessed redemption, which will be revealed at the proper time. The admonition is intended to inform us, that they do not strive in vain who set a higher value on the confession of faith than on their own life. “Place your lives fearlessly,” says he, “in my hand, and under my protection; for I will at length appear as your avenger, and will fully restore you, though for the time you may seem to have perished.”

In the glory of the Father, with his angels. These are mentioned to guard his disciples against judging of his kingdom from present appearances; for hitherto he was unknown and despised, being concealed under the form and condition of a servant. He assures them that it will be far otherwise when he shall appear as the Judge of the world. As to the remaining part of the passage in Mark and Luke, the reader will find it explained under the tenth chapter of Matthew. 469469     Harmony, vol. 1 p. 466.

And then will he render to every one according to his actions. The reward of works has been treated by me as fully as was necessary under another passage. 470470     “Alibi is a general reference, but en un autre passage is more specific; and the passage to which he probably refers the reader for a distinct exhibition of his views, and in which, so far as I remember, he handles this subject more fully than in any other part of the Gospels, is John 4:36.” — Ed. It amounts to this: When a reward is promised to good works, their merit is not contrasted with the justification which is freely bestowed on us through faith; nor is it pointed out as the cause of our salvation, but is only held out to excite believers to aim at doing what is right, 471471     “A faire bonnes oeuvres;” — “to do good works.” by assuring them that their labor will not be lost. There is a perfect agreement, therefore, between these two statements, that we are justified freely, (Romans 3:24,) because we are received into God’s favor without any merit; 472472     “Sans que nous en soyons dignes, ou l’ayons meritd;” — “without being worthy of it, or having deserved it.” and yet that God, of his own good pleasure, bestows on our works a reward which we did not deserve.

28. Verily, I say to you. As the disciples might still hesitate and inquire when that day would be, our Lord animates them by the immediate assurance, that he will presently give them a proof of his future glory. We know the truth of the common proverb, that to one who is in expectation even speed looks like delay; but never does it hold more true, than when we are told to wait for our salvation till the coming of Christ. To support his disciples in the meantime, our Lord holds out to them, for confirmation, an intermediate period; as much as to say, “If it seem too long to wait for the day of my coming, I will provide against this in good time; for before you come to die, you will see with your eyes that kingdom of God, of which I bid you entertain a confident hope.” This is the natural import of the words; for the notion adopted by some, that they were intended to apply to John, is ridiculous.

Coming in his kingdom. By the coming of the kingdom of God we are to understand the manifestation of heavenly glory, which Christ began to make at his resurrection, and which he afterwards made more fully by sending the Holy Spirit, and by the performance of miracles; for by those beginnings he gave his people a taste of the newness of the heavenly life, when they perceived, by certain and undoubted proofs, that he was sitting at the right hand of the Father.