Matthew 16:13-28 Part 1

We now come to a period of six or seven days in the life of Jesus Christ, and His apostles, which is truly remarkable; it includes some of the most Theologically significant teaching in all of Scripture, and some of the most misused language in the Bible!  And I speak, in part, of Roman Catholicism (which has justified its own existence by a purposeful twisting of the words of Christ that are found here).  And we’ll also continue in the next weeks to see how much of the modern Church refuses to see the Words of Jesus with His mind and in its context.

It is during this week-long period that Jesus establishes His apostles as the foundation of the Church; reveals, in some specifics, His death, burial and resurrection; discloses the mysteries of His Kingdom; and is glorified on the mount of transfiguration!

It is, by all the standards of God’s inspired Word, an awesome passage of Scripture.  And it presents great difficulties for us as we struggle to gain the mind and perception and wisdom of Christ.  Providentially for us, we now live in the very source and power of that wisdom – and the struggle won’t be unrewarded!

Now, the first thing we need to do here is a couple of minutes of history and geography.  Not that Caesarea Phillippi is all that Theologically significant, but that we really need that real time / real place perspective in order to understand God’s Word.

Verse thirteen of the text says, “Now, Jesus, having come into the regions of Caesarea Phillippi….”  The writer Mark says that Jesus and His apostles were walking along the road in the outlying villages adjacent to Caesarea Phillippi.

You remember that Jesus and His apostles had just crossed back over the Sea of Galilee from Magadan in Galilee where that momentous confrontation with the Pharisees and Sadducees had occurred.  They were then on the east side of the sea, in the wilderness, and apparently traveled northward, on the east side of the River Jordan.

And in doing so, they left the Tetrarchy of Herod Antipas and entered in to the area which had been given to another of Herod’s sons – Phillip.  And in this territory was an old Syrian town which sat at the very beginning of the Jordan River.  The streams of water flowing off the foothills of Mt. Herman formed the headwaters for the river, and this town was situated right there.

At the conquest of Alexander the Great, this spot was so loved by the Greeks for its sylvan beauty that they made it the center for Pan worship and named it Paneus.  (Pan, if you remember, was a Greek god of nature who was pictured as a beautiful shepherd with little horns like a goat, and a flute: and he was supposed to have inspired flock fertility.  It is from this mythology that comes the modern story of Peter Pan; and from which comes words in the English language such as “panic” – a fear reaction to destructive “nature” phenomena.)

Back before Christ was born, the original Herod the Great had also loved this town and had done some construction work in it, and he had renamed it “Caesarea” after the Roman emperor Caesar Augustus.  And after his death the whole area of Palestine had been broken up by Rome into Tetrarchies for Herod’s sons.  And the son, Phillip, had been given this Northeastern section, which included this town that his father had renamed.

Phillip, too, loved Caesarea.  And he expanded it and built many things in it; and also expanded its name to include himself!  He named it Caesarea Phillippi – a name that didn’t stick, because down through its history the people of that area have always called it Caesarea Paneus.  Matthew, as you can see, uses its legal name, for Phillip was then the ruling authority over that area.

But it was into the regions of this beautiful, but pagan, city that Jesus and His apostles walked.  Nothing is said in the text about how the people of the area treated Jesus, nor about how Jesus viewed the area and the city.  We can only assume that Jesus chose it for its remoteness and privacy and its mythological history for some of the most select communications to His apostles.  I suppose that we could also say that one of Jesus’ purposes was to implicate Herod Phillip, as He had the other rulers, in the judgment to come; and I also suppose that we could say that Jesus’ Kingship over all of Israel was indicated by His going there.  But none of this comes out of the text, so we won’t spend any time on it.

We’ll just leave it to say that Caesarea Phillip shows up many, many times in the history books – including many great battles during the crusades for the liberation of Biblical lands.  I understand that there’s not much left of what once was there – except a great old castle overlooking the lowlands; possibly near the mount of transfiguration.

But as Jesus and His apostles walk through the enclaves and villages surrounding the city, He begins a formal and solemn questioning of the twelve.  And as we read the rest of verse thirteen, you’ll notice that the first question is preliminary:  “Who are men saying the Son of Man to be?”  The word “questioning” Matthew puts in the imperfect tense, signifying that this was an ongoing process which was to lead to something substantial.  Jesus already knows what men are calling Him, so we know that this is preliminary interrogation in order to raise some other issues.

But we notice right away that He uses the “Son of Man” designation for Himself again – here and in verse twenty-eight.  And this nomenclature must have immediately drawn the apostles’ attention to the only place in the Scripture where it is used in relation to the Christ – Daniel chapter seven.

Listen to what it says:


“I saw in the night visions, and, behold, One like the Son of Man came in the clouds of heaven, and came to the Ancient of Days; and they brought Him near before Him.  And there was given Him dominion, and glory, and a Kingdom, that all people, nations, and languages, should serve Him; His dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and His Kingdom which shall not be destroyed.”


Right in the midst of the vision of the four beasts – that is, the four nations who ruled and had dominion and spread their culture over all the earth before Christ came – Daniel has a vision of One coming and receiving dominion and rule over all nations and peoples and languages!  In the midst of the dominion of beasts – the great nations of Babylon, Persia, Greece and Rome – comes the dominion of One called the “Son of Man” – the eternal King of the fifth dominion!

And, then, the apostle John, writing the Revelation in about 65 AD, says this: 


“I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s Day, and heard behind me a great voice, as of a trumpet, saying I AM Alpha and Omega, the first and the last; and what you see, write in a book, and send it unto the seven Churches which are in Asia; … and I turned to see the voice that spake with me, and being turned, I saw seven golden candlesticks; and in the midst of the seven candlesticks One like unto the “Son of Man”, clothed with a garment down to the foot, and girt about the paps with a golden girdle.  His head and His hair were white like wool, as white as snow; and His eyes were as a flame of fire; and His feet like unto fine brass, as if they burned in a furnace; and His voice as the sound of many waters.  And He had in His right hand seven stars; and out of His mouth went a sharp two-edged Sward; and His countenance was as the sun shining in its strength.”


As the prophecy of Daniel promised, so it was to come to pass – as the apostle John saw – the Son Man appears, dressed for warfare and rule and dominion!

And that’s exactly what the lord Jesus prophecies about Himself later on in the text of Matthew’s Gospel, chapter twenty-four:


“And then shall appear the sign of the Son of Man in heaven; and then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn, and they shall see the Son of Man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory….”


And then, in chapter twenty-six of Matthew, the Lord uses the same nomenclature again three more times – each time indicating the One Who comes in the clouds of heaven to His Father, Who gives Him Power and rule and authority over the nations of earth!

So considering all these things, when Jesus begins referring to Himself as the “Son of Man” to His apostles here in a preliminary question, it is very obvious that He is causing them to recall the Daniel prophecy concerning the coming of the fifth and eternal dominion in great power and glory and authority!  And Jesus confirms that, in verse twenty-seven and twenty-eight, when He refers to the Son of Man coming in His Kingdom!

So as we read and attempt to understand all these things, we, too, have to recognize that the full meaning of the Daniel chapter seven passage is the topic for this whole section of Scripture!  The preliminary question in verse thirteen, the follow-up question in verse fifteen, and the sacred teaching that He is about to give His apostles is about the coming of the King into His glory, and those things which are necessary to happen in order that that might occur!

And although there is about to be an appropriate confession of Who Jesus is, from the apostle Peter, he and the rest of the apostles have no idea yet as to what must take place in order for all theses things to happen; and they don’t have a clue yet as to the glorious nature of the Kingdom to be!  And their ignorant opposition to what He says must happen to Him, Jesus considers of Satanic origin!

But we know from the Scriptures that, even though the apostles were blind and deaf to many of these things early on, after the coming of the Spirit of Christ at Pentecost their eyes were opened.  And they recalled and understood all that Jesus had taught them.

But for now, the question regarding the Son of Man and “who men were saying Him to be” is answered by the apostles in verse fourteen.  “And they said, ‘Some John the Baptist, and others Elijah, yet others Jeremiah, or one of the prophets.’”  And as you can see, the answer is a straight-forward one to a straight-forward question.  And they are answers that are just brushed off without further comment, as Jesus goes directly to question number two.

Several of the apostles probably jumped in with parts of the answer.  One would have said “John the Baptist”; another said “Elijah”, and yet another said “Jeremiah”, and so forth.  And although Matthew records only these, there were probably others thrown in there from the “twelve” as they eagerly sought to answer Jesus’ question!

The answer of “John the Baptist” would have referred to the Herodians who, superstitiously thought that John the Baptist must have come back to life to haunt Herod Antipas!  The answer of “Elijah” would possibly have come from many religious “mystics” who remembered Malachi chapter four, verse five where it says, “Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord.”

The “Jeremiah” answer more than likely would refer to Jewish fables about the martyred prophet returning to occupy his prophetic office.  And many other prophets were also imprisoned and killed in Israel; and it was fantasized among many that they would arise to continue their dreadful prophecies!

Now. As I said before, Jesus just brushes off these answers with no further comment.  His interest is in getting to the second question which opens the door to the teaching which is about to take place.  And the question is recorded in verse three:  “He says to them, “But you, who do you say Me to be?’”  “You” is plural, referring to all the apostles, and it is in the emphatic position in the sentence.  So Jesus wants to compare their answer to those of “men” who hold to superstitions and Jewish fables – or anyone else who would conceive of Jesus in a way that is different from that revealed by His Father!

Let me read verse seventeen again for you, and then I want to come back to that point for a minute. 


“…and Jesus, answering, says to him, ‘Blessed are you Simon, son of Jonah, because flesh and blood did not reveal it to you, but My Father in the Heavens.’”


You see, Jesus says that His Father has revealed Him.  The Word of God in the Law and the Prophets reveals the Christ.  And now the Father has sent the “fullness” of His Word – in the flesh!  And the apostle Peter is reflecting that revelation in his confession (which we’ll get to later).  And Peter, and undoubtedly all the other apostles consent to his confession, but Peter has had his eyes opened to the reality of that revelation, for Jesus says here that His Father has revealed it to him!

Now, the point I want to make here, before I get back to the text, is that there are many superstitions and fables believed about Jesus.  Maybe one of the reasons that Jesus took his apostles to Caesarea, the city of Pan, is to illustrate this point!  Superstitions and fables are not the revelation of God!  Mythology isn’t the revelation of God!  One’s personal ideas and conceptions aren’t the revelation of God!

Many, many people, when asked, would say that they believe in God and they believe in Jesus.  But do they believe God’s revelation!?  It is the answer of many that Jesus was, indeed, a great prophet; and what He said is certainly true.  But how is that different from the Jewish fables concerning John the Baptist, and Elijah, and Jeremiah and the other prophets!  Some would openly admit that Jesus was, perhaps, the greatest man ever lived.  But how is that different from superstitions and fables?!

Some believe that Jesus is a special “emanation” from God.  Others believe that the one God manifests Himself in the person Jesus.  Some others believe that the same spirit that was in Jesus is also in Buddha and Ra and in “pan”-theism!  And still others would say that Jesus exhibited the very highest in the “human” spirit!  But how is that different from Greek mythology?!!

After Peter’s confession Jesus said to him that he was “blessed” because the Father had revealed to him “the Christ, the Son of God the Living”!  Jesus’ question was, “You, who do you say Me to be?”  And Peter, always ready, speaks for the whole group as he says, “You are the Christ, the Son of God the Living One.”  Unqualified.  Emphatic.  Decisive.  “The Christ”… The Anointed One of God, the One Who occupies the ceremonial office commissioned of God….  The Anointed One is the Messiah of God promised in all Old Testament revelations.  It is Peter’s conviction, by the revelation of God, that Jesus is the Messiah!  The One sent from God Who lives!  If God were not The Living One, how could He do something such as “to send” another?  To “anoint” one, and to send Him as Messiah necessitates One Who is Living!

And it is Peter’s Conviction, by the Revelation of the Father, that this One Who is the Christ, the One sent, the Messiah, this One is no less than the Son Of God!  He is the eternally begotten of the Father Who thought it not robbery to be equal with God, but Who stripped Himself of His glory to be birthed into the world!

And, you see, here’s the connection with the “Son of Man” nomenclature that the apostles don’t yet see!  The eternal Son of God, the Begotten of the ages, was stripped of His glory to be born of man.  And having been born of man, He is “Son of Man” returning to the Father to receive His Power and Glory!  He has to become “Son of Man” – man in the flesh – in order to save man in the flesh.  And He returns to God as the “Son of Man” for the purpose of receiving power and glory and dominion.  And in Him is the new humanity that stands before God the Father and is acceptable to Him.  That’s what’s been revealed by the Father – not personal conceptions and ideas and expectations and mythologies.

So the apostle Peter confesses that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God the Living One – the Messiah anointed of God and sent as the prophets foretold.  And for that, Jesus, answering, verse seventeen, says to him, “Bless are you Simon, son of Jonah, because flesh and blood did not reveal it to you, but My Father in the Heavens.”

Again, the apostle possesses the treasure which is the source of eternal life and joy.  To know, believe and confess that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God the Living is, indeed, a blessed state, isn’t it?  But what does Jesus say here?  That Peter is blessed because he confessed?  Or that Peter is blessed because he confessed truly?  No.  Neither one of these.

Jesus says that Simon son of Jonah is blessed because the Father in the heavens revealed it to him!  Flesh and blood – fallible and mortal man and his intellect and reason – did not teach Peter of the person of Christ.  Peter did not come to the understanding exhibited in his confession by his own doing – or by that from anyone else!  A confession such as this cannot be made by natural man – it is an impenetrable mystery!  It is God Who revealed His Word in the Flesh – and man is blessed by that!

The contrast that Jesus is making here is that between God and man.  He is making a Creator / creature distinction when He points out Peter’s earthly father, and then uses the term “flesh and blood”.  This isn’t the way Peter came to an understanding of the Christ – but only by revelation by the Father in the heavens.  And for that reason, and only for that reason, Peter is called “makarios” – blessed.

We still have some things to do with this verse, such as a fuller explanation of the “flesh and blood” terminology that Jesus uses.  All of this is important to our understanding of the verses to come.  But for now we’ll rest in anticipation that God the Father in the Heavens will reveal more and more to us concerning the Christ by His Word and Spirit.