And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. Matthew 16:18
1. Jesus gives the Pharisees a sign.
2. Jesus warns His disciples of the teaching of the Jewish leaders.
3. Peter makes a confession, and Jesus speaks of His church.
4. Peter displays a lack of faith, and Jesus challenges His disciples to risk their lives for Him.
Verses 21–23. In the beginning of these verses we find our Lord revealing to His disciples a great and startling truth. That truth was His approaching death upon the cross. For the first time He places before their minds the astounding announcement, that “He must go unto Jerusalem, and suffer—and be killed.” He had not come on earth to take a kingdom, but to die. He had not come to reign, and be served, but to shed His blood as a sacrifice, and to give His life as a ransom for many.
It is almost impossible for us to conceive how strange and incomprehensible these tidings must have seemed to His disciples. Like most of the Jews, they could form no idea of a suffering Messiah. They did not understand that the fifty-third chapter of Isaiah must be literally fulfilled. They did not see that the sacrifices of the law were all meant to point them to the death of the true Lamb of God. They thought of nothing but the second glorious coming of Messiah, which is yet to take place at the end of the world. They thought so much of Messiah’s crown, that they lost sight of His cross. We shall do well to remember this. A right understanding of this matter throws strong light on the lessons that this passage contains.
We learn, in the first place, from these verses, that there may be much spiritual ignorance even in a true disciple of Christ. We cannot have a clearer proof of this, than the conduct of the apostle Peter in this passage. He tries to dissuade our Lord from suffering on the cross. “Be it far from Thee, Lord” he says, “this shall not be unto Thee.” He did not see the full purpose of our Lord’s coming into the world. His eyes were blinded to the necessity of our Lord’s death. He actually did what he could, to prevent that death taking place at all! And yet we know that Peter was a converted man. He really believed that Jesus was the Messiah. His heart was right in the sight of God.
These things are meant to teach us that we must neither regard saved men as infallible, because they are saved men, nor yet suppose they have no grace, because their grace is weak and small. One brother may possess singular gifts, and be a bright and shining light in the Church of Christ. But let us not forget that he is a man, and as a man liable to commit great mistakes. Another brother’s knowledge may be scanty. He may fail to judge rightly on many points of doctrine. He may err both in word and deed. But has he faith and love towards Christ? Does he hold the Head? If so, let us deal patiently with him. What he sees not now, he may see hereafter. Like Peter, he may now be in the dark, and yet, like Peter, enjoy one day the full light of the Gospel.
Let us learn, in the second place, from these verses, that there is no doctrine of Scripture so deeply important as the doctrine of Christ’s atoning death. We cannot have clearer proof of this, than the language used by our Lord in rebuking Peter. He addresses him by the dreadful name of “Satan,” as if he was an adversary, and doing the devil’s work, in trying to prevent His death. He says to him, whom He had so lately called “blessed,” “Get behind Me, Satan! Thou art an offence unto Me.” He tells the man whose noble confession He had just commended so highly, “thou savourest not the things that be of God, but those that be of men.” Stronger words than these never fell from our Lord’s lips. The error that drew from so loving a Savior such a stern rebuke to such a true disciple, must have been a mighty error indeed.
The truth is, that our Lord would have us regard the crucifixion as the central truth of Christianity. Right views of His vicarious death, and the benefits resulting from it, lie at the very foundation of Bible-religion. Never let us forget this. On matters of church government, and the form of worship, men may differ from us, and yet reach heaven in safety. On the matter of Christ’s atoning death, as the way of peace, truth is only one. If we are wrong here, we are ruined forever. Error on many other points is only a skin disease. Error about Christ’s death is a disease at the heart. Here let us take our stand. Let nothing move us from this ground. The sum of all our hopes must be, that “Christ has died for us” (1 Thess. 5:10). Give up that doctrine, and we have no solid hope at all.
Verses 24–28. In order to see the connection of these verses, we must remember the mistaken impressions of our Lord’s disciples as to the purpose of His coming into the world. Like Peter, they could not bear the idea of the crucifixion. They thought that Jesus had come to set up an earthly kingdom. They did not see that He must suffer and die. They dreamed of worldly honors and temporal rewards in their Master’s service. They did not understand that true Christians, like Christ, must be made perfect through sufferings. Our Lord corrects these misapprehensions in words of peculiar solemnity, which we shall do well to lay up in our hearts.
Let us learn, in the first place, from these verses, that men must make up their minds to trouble and self-denial, if they follow Christ. Our Lord dispels the fond dreams of His disciples, by telling those who are His followers that they must “take up the cross.” The glorious kingdom they were expecting, was not about to be set up immediately. They must make up their minds to persecution and affliction, if they intended to be His servants. They must be content to “lose their lives,” if they would have their souls saved.
It is good for us all to see this point clearly. We must not conceal from ourselves that true Christianity brings with it a daily cross in this life, while it offers us a crown of glory in the life to come. The flesh must be daily crucified. The devil must be daily resisted. The world must be daily overcome. There is a warfare to be waged, and a battle to be fought. All this is the inseparable accompaniment of true religion. Heaven is not to be won without it. Never was there a truer word than the old saying, “No cross, no crown!” If we never found this out by experience, our souls are in a poor condition.
Let us learn, in the second place, from these verses, that there is nothing so precious as a man’s soul. Our Lord teaches this lesson by asking one of the most solemn questions that the New Testament contains. It is a question so well known, and so often repeated, that people often lose sight of its searching character. But it is a question that ought to sound in our ears like a trumpet, whenever we are tempted to neglect our eternal interests—“For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?”
There can only be one answer to this question. There is nothing on earth, or under the earth, that can make amends to us for the loss of our souls. There is nothing that money can buy, or man can give, to be named in comparison with our souls. The world, and all that it contains is temporal. It is all fading, perishing, and passing away. The soul is eternal. That one single word is the key to the whole question. Let it sink down deeply into our hearts. Are we wavering in our religion? Do we fear the cross? Does the way seem too narrow? Let our Master’s words ring in our ears, “For what is a man profited?” and let us doubt no more.
Let us learn, in the last place, that the second coming of Christ is the time when His people shall receive their rewards. “For the Son of Man shall come in the glory of His Father with His angels; and then He shall reward every man according to his works.”
There is deep wisdom in this saying of our Lord’s, when viewed in connection with the preceding verses. He knows the heart of a man. He knows how soon we are ready to be cast down, and like Israel of old to be “discouraged by the difficulties of the way.” He therefore holds out to us a gracious promise. He reminds us that He has yet to come a second time, as surely as He came the first time. He tells us that this is the time when His disciples shall receive their good things. There will be glory, honor, and reward in abundance one day for all who have served and loved Jesus. But it is to be in the second coming, and not of the first. The bitter must come before the sweet, the cross before the crown.
And now let us not leave these verses without serious self-inquiry as to the matters that they contain. We have heard of the necessity of taking up the cross, and denying ourselves. Have we taken it up, and are we carrying it daily? We have heard of the value of the soul. Do we live as if we believed it? We have heard of Christ’s second coming. Do we look forward to it with hope and joy? Happy is that man who can give a satisfactory answer to these questions.
1. What are the themes of chapters 1 through 16?
2. Why were Peter and the others disappointed to discover that the Messiah came to suffer?
3. Why did Christ respond so sharply to Peter, when Peter tried to dissuade Him from the way of the cross?
4. What do we learn about the Apostle Peter in this passage?
5. Why is it a bad deal to trade the whole world for your own soul?
1. What does the cross of Christ have to do with the cross we are supposed to bear? Are we walking in the way of Christ? Do we have a cross to bear? What does that cross look like?