VIII. Spreading Ministry and Growing Opposition (Matthew 14:1–17:27)

14:1-2 Matthew previously mentioned the ministry of John the Baptist (3:1-16), his arrest by Herod Antipas (4:12), and his question about Jesus’s identity (11:1-6). Here we learn the details of his arrest and martyrdom. Herod the tetrarch (14:1)—also known as Herod Antipas—was the son of Herod the Great, who’d sought to kill the infant Jesus (2:1-23). As we’ll see, the apple didn’t fall far from the tree. When Herod learned about Jesus’s ministry, he panicked: This is John the Baptist. . . . He has been raised from the dead (14:2).

16:5-7 Jesus and his disciples departed in a boat. When they reached the other shore, the disciples realized they had forgotten to take bread (16:5). So when Jesus warned them to beware of the leaven (yeast) of the Pharisees and Sadducees (16:6), their absent-mindedness and hunger left them confused (16:7). Clearly, they weren’t on the same page as Jesus.

16:8-10 Jesus chastens his muddled disciples for their little faith. Had they forgotten so quickly how he’d miraculously fed thousands on two occasions (16:9-10; see 14:13-21; 15:32-39)? A lack of food isn’t a problem when you’re with the Son of God.

16:11-12 The disciples were thinking of literal bread, but Jesus wasn’t talking about food at all when he spoke of yeast (16:11). Leaven is an essential ingredient in bread that must permeate the dough. Jesus was metaphorically comparing the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees to it (16:12). It permeated and influenced the Jewish people, resulting in unbelief. Watch out, then, for those who pursue self-righteous religion and teach others to do the same. A relationship with God through Christ is what’s needed.

16:13 Jesus then took his disciples to Caesa-rea Philippi, a city about twenty-five miles north of the Sea of Galilee where there was a temple honoring the Roman emperor Caesar Augustus. Perhaps the reverence for a mortal man is what prompted Jesus to ask his followers, Who do people say that the Son of Man is?

16:14-15 Apparently, there was a lot of speculation among the crowds about Jesus. Like Herod Antipas (14:1-2), some thought he was John the Baptist back from the dead—or one of the Old Testament prophets (16:14). But after his disciples relayed all the gossip concerning Jesus, he got to his real question: Who do you say that I am? (16:15). The “you” here is plural, so the question was addressed to the entire group.

16:16-18 Simon Peter quickly and correctly answered: You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God (16:16). Jesus affirmed this great confession of faith by praising God the Father for revealing this truth to Peter and blessing him (16:17). That opened the door for an announcement from Jesus. Something so awesome that hell itself can’t overpower it was coming: the church (16:18).

No matter how much Satan attacks, the church will win, and hell will lose. The offensive advance of the church exercising kingdom authority overrides hell’s attempts to stop it.

But how would Jesus accomplish his building program? Since Peter confessed Jesus as the Christ, Jesus used his name in a word play. In Greek, Peter’s name is petros, which means “stone.” But when Jesus said, On this rock I will build my church (16:18), he used the Greek word petra, which was a collection of rocks knitted together to form a larger slab. Jesus’s church, then, would be comprised of his unified followers who confess him as the Christ, the Son of the living God, as Peter did.

The Greek word for “church” is ekklesia, a term used to refer to an assembly or gathering of people, especially for legal purposes (see Acts 19:39-41). The church is like an embassy. The U.S. has embassies throughout the world, and the people working at an embassy are to live out the values and laws of the U.S. as they represent their homeland in a foreign country. Each embassy, then, is a little bit of America a long way from home. Similarly, the church of the Lord Jesus is to adopt the agenda of its heavenly King and enact it on earth. Christ’s church is a little bit of heaven a long way from home, designed to withstand the authority of hell (its gates) (16:18). Hell’s attempt to stop the church’s progress in history is thwarted as the church executes heaven’s authority on earth.

16:19-20 Jesus then promised his disciples that he would give them the keys of the kingdom (6:19). God doesn’t leave his church powerless. The problem is that we frequently don’t understand who we are and don’t access the resources available. Even though an American embassy is a small outpost surrounded by a foreign nation, it can be confident that America stands behind it because it’s connected to something that exerts a powerful influence. And though the church often seems small and weak, it’s connected to the ultimate power in the universe.

What are these “keys of the kingdom of heaven”? They’re divinely authorized resources that grant us authority and access (see Isa 22:22). Christians, through the church, have access to heaven’s kingdom rule. Your world isn’t supposed to be ruling you; you are supposed to be ruling your world. You’re supposed to be regularly utilizing heaven to help you live on earth—not merely visiting church on Sunday mornings. Believers are to study the Bible and gather with the church for a reason: to learn how to access the divine viewpoint and live out God’s kingdom rule in the world. You will never rule your world of relationships, emotions, employment, or finances if you continue to employ the keys the world offers you, or if you’re not connected to a local church that possesses and operates with the keys of the kingdom.

Note that the word keys is plural in this passage; that’s because the word gates is plural (16:18). For every hellish gate (the exercise of Satanic authority), there is a corresponding kingdom key designed to give the church access to heaven’s kingdom authority.

Whatever you bind on earth will have been bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will have been loosed in heaven (16:19). To “bind” and “loose” is to restrain and to set free. The church is to use heaven’s keys (heaven’s viewpoint and spiritual resources on a matter), operate according to that perspective, and then call on heaven’s authority to bind and loose. It’s critical to understand that heaven is waiting on the church to act in the matter of permitting and releasing before heaven’s authority gets activated in history.

Binding and loosing doesn’t imply you can make God do whatever you want. First, it must be in accordance with God’s will. You can only bind and loose what “will have been” already bound and loosed in heaven. Second, know that answers to prayer are not for your sole benefit. They’re to benefit others. God calls his people to be a blessing.

16:21 Having clearly affirmed his identity to his disciples (16:16-17), Jesus explained his mission. He told them it was necessary for him to go to Jerusalem and suffer at the hands of the religious leaders, be killed, and be raised the third day. In other words, Jesus gave them the foundation for the gospel in summary form (see 1 Cor 15:3-4).

16:22-23 Peter took him aside and rebuked him: This will never happen to you! (16:22). Peter had just confessed Jesus to be the Christ, the Son of God (16:16). Unfortunately, though, when he opened his mouth this time, things went downhill. Not days later, but only a few minutes later, Peter had gone from being blessed (16:17) to being reprimanded as Jesus said, Get behind me, Satan! (16:23).

Jesus knew something wicked was operating behind Peter’s statement. His confession of Jesus as the Messiah was the work of God (16:17). His attempt to protect Jesus was the work of the devil. Any attempt to make Jesus King without the cross (remember Satan’s temptations in 4:2-10?) is an attempt to thwart God’s plan of salvation. Instead of being a stone (see 16:18), Peter had become a hindrance, which can also be translated “stumbling block.”

You’re not thinking about God’s concerns but human concerns means Peter’s viewpoint was warped (16:23). He was seeing things from a merely human perspective, not a divine perspective. His words were flawed because his thinking was flawed. He had aligned himself with Satan’s program without realizing it.

16:24 After explaining his mission (his death and resurrection), Jesus explained the mission of his followers, discipleship: If anyone wants to follow after me, let him deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me. That’s a zinger to get your attention because denying yourself isn’t fun. People don’t typically wake in the morning and say, “I can’t wait to deny myself today!” But, in order to experience the lordship and provision of Christ on earth, you must be willing to say “no” to yourself.

16:25-26 Whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life because of me will find it (16:25). Many people misread, thinking Jesus is speaking of salvation. But remember, Peter is already a believer here. Thus, Jesus spoke about the daily commitment of being a disciple. If you want to run your own life, you’ll find that you lose the life you were looking for. But if you totally identify with Jesus and live according to his agenda, you’ll find the abundant life you never knew was possible (see John 10:10). What good is it to gain worldly stuff while losing spiritual blessings and the peace that make life worthwhile (16:26)?

16:27 One day the Son of Man will come in his glory and reward everyone according to what they’ve done. If you make the shift from self-interest to kingdom-interest, it doesn’t mean you will have no trouble in the world. In fact, you can count on experiencing suffering. But, as sure as Jesus “conquered the world” (John 16:33), he will reward those who choose his way.

16:28 There are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom. This was fulfilled when Peter, James, and John witnessed Jesus’s transfiguration (see 17:1-9). They saw his humanity peeled back and got a glimpse of his glorious deity.

17:1-2 After this significant encounter with his disciples, discussing his identity, his mission, and the cost of discipleship (16:13-28), Jesus took Peter, James, and his brother John up on a high mountain (17:1). At that moment, he was supernaturally transfigured. These three Jewish fishermen were given a glimpse of the glory of the coming King and his kingdom (17:2).

17:3 As if this wasn’t enough, two eminent Old Testament figures—Moses and Elijah—appeared and talked with Jesus. This scene informs us that those who experience death (e.g., Moses) have cognitive understanding and an ability to communicate. Together, they symbolize all those who make up God’s kingdom—those who will be raptured and not see death (like Elijah) and those who will die and go to be with the Lord (like Moses).

Moreover, Moses represented the Law, and Elijah represented the Prophets. Together they represented the complete Old Testament. Along with the disciples, they represent both the Old and New Testaments centered on Jesus.

17:4-6 Always quick with a word when no one else knew what to say, Peter said, Lord, it’s good for us to be here. He offered to build three shelters, one for each of them. While he still was speaking, suddenly a bright cloud covered them and a voice spoke: This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well-pleased. Listen to him! (17:4-5). God the Father interrupted Peter to give a verbal and visual validation of his one and only Son, the King of kings. How did the disciples respond? They fell facedown and were terrified (17:6). They had enough sense to take the holy and omnipotent God of heaven and earth seriously.

17:7-8 When Jesus touched them and told them not to be afraid, the three disciples looked and saw no one but him. Why? Because Jesus isn’t merely one among many faithful servants of God. He is superior to them all. The ministries of Moses and Elijah ultimately pointed toward Christ. All of Scripture has him as its focus (see Luke 24:27).

17:9 As they descended the mountain, he told them not to tell anyone about the vision until he was raised from the dead. If the crowds heard about it, the story would likely create confusion and cause them to forcibly make him king. Instead, it was to be part of the kingdom message that they would proclaim, calling sinners to place their faith in the risen King.

17:10-13 The vision of Moses and Elijah prompted the disciples to ask Jesus why the scribes say that Elijah must come first (17:10). Jesus pointed out the reality that Elijah had already come (17:12). As he’d told them previously, John the Baptist “is the Elijah who is to come” (11:14). In the Gospel of Luke, the angel told John’s father Zechariah that his son would go before the Lord “in the Spirit and power of Elijah” (Luke 1:17). The problem was that the leaders didn’t recognize John in this way. Instead, they persecuted him and would do the same to the Son of Man (17:12).

17:14-16 When they’d descended the mountain and reached the crowd, a man knelt down before Jesus and begged him to heal his son. The boy had seizures and often fell into fire and water (17:14-15). We know from the parallel account in Mark’s Gospel that the father also said his son had a demon (Mark 9:14-18). His physical impairments had a spiritual cause, and the disciples couldn’t heal him (17:16). Though Jesus had deputized and empowered them to do supernatural kingdom work on his behalf (see 10:5-8), they were powerless this time.

17:17-18 Importantly, this wasn’t merely a failure of power; it was a failure of faith, a failure to trust in the power of God. So Jesus rebuked them for it (17:17), and then he rebuked the demon, so that the boy was healed (17:18).

17:19-20 This was an embarrassing moment for the disciples, so they went to Jesus privately and asked in effect, “What happened?” Why couldn’t we drive it out? (17:19). Jesus answered, Because of your little faith (17:20). Though Jesus had authorized them to drive out demons (10:8), their trust in God’s power was insufficient in this instance. Regardless of your past success, then, you need a present faith.

What does such faith need to look like? In order to move a mountain, it must be the size of a mustard seed (17:20). But have you ever seen mustard seeds? They’re tiny! So apparently, the disciples’ faith was microscopic. But with even a small trust in an omnipotent God, the impossible becomes possible (17:20).

17:22-23 For a second time (see 16:21), Matthew describes how Jesus informed his disciples that the Son of Man would be betrayed into the hands of men, killed, and raised up three days later. Jesus understood the direction his life would take; he knew his fate. It was no surprise but under his sovereign control. However, his disciples were deeply distressed over it (17:23).

17:24-26 When they returned to Capernaum, tax collectors approached Peter and asked if his teacher paid the temple tax (17:24). This tax was used for the upkeep of the temple. Though this confrontation was probably another attempt to catch Jesus at being a lawbreaker, Peter answered, Yes (17:25).

In private, Jesus posed a question to Peter: From whom do earthly kings collect tariffs or taxes? From their sons or from strangers? The answer to Jesus’s question is obvious. Kings collect taxes from strangers—their subjects—not from their own sons. The sons are free, Jesus said (11:26). In other words, if those running things at the temple understood who Jesus was, they wouldn’t be asking him to pay a temple tax. After all, he’s the King, and it’s his temple. Likewise, to be sons and daughters of the kingdom is to be a privileged people who benefit from their relationship to the King.

17:27 Jesus didn’t want to enter into unnecessary conflict—and you shouldn’t either. Though the government and unbelievers don’t recognize Christ or his kingdom, that’s no reason to cause needless offense. So Jesus temporarily sent Peter back to his old fishing job for a supernatural moment. Soon, in the mouth of a fish, Peter found a coin to pay their tax.

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