THE GOSPEL OF MATTHEW
Lesson 18, Chapters 16-17
Narrative #4: The Opposition of the Old Covenant Church,
Jesus Proclaims the Preeminence of Peter and
The Revelation of the Divine Messiah

Most Holy Lord,
In the face of opposition to the announcement of His coming Kingdom, Jesus did not change His message to satisfy His critics. Instead, He persevered in speaking the truth. Give us that same resolve to advance the Kingdom, and give us the knowledge and the patience to answer those who stand in opposition to the Christian message of love of God and love of neighbor and those who distain the gift of salvation through Jesus Christ our Savior. Send us your Spirit, Lord, to give us divine insight as we study Jesus' mission to gather in the scattered people of the covenant and to empower a faithful remnant of the new Israel to carry the Gospel message of salvation to the world. We pray in the name of God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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For Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those who are called, Jews and Greeks alike, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.
1 Corinthians 1:23-25

Over time Jesus has been revealing His true identity. In His teaching in the Sermon on the Mount, He revealed that He is the new Moses, the new law-giver and the prophet promised in Deuteronomy 18:15-19 (Mt 5-7). In the public miracles He has worked, He has also fulfilled the Messianic prophecies of the prophets: healing the blind, deaf, and lame (Is 29:18; 35:4-6), casting out demons (Is 53:4) raising the dead (Is 26:19), and teaching in parables like the prophets of old in fulfillment of prophecy (Is 6:9-10; Mt 11:3-6). Jesus has also claimed that He has the authority from God to forgive sins (Mt 9:2-6). All Jesus' public signs have prompted the crowds to ask "Could this perhaps be the Son of David?" (Mt 12:23), the "servant" God promised to send to gather the "scattered sheep" of Israel (Ez 34:23-24).

However, in two nature miracles, He has privately revealed to His disciples that He is more than a human prophet and a human Messiah. In His first nature miracle, He saved the disciples' boat from being swamped in a storm by commanding nature and calming the sea, prompting the disciples to ask, "What sort of man is this, whom even the winds and the sea obey" (Mt 8:23-27). In His second private nature miracle, Jesus provided the answer to their question. When they called out to Him walking upon the storm tossed waves, He replied using the Divine Name saying "Take courage, I AM; do not be afraid" (Mt 14:27). A miracle that was not possible for an ordinary human coupled with the use of the Divine Name inspired Peter to ask Jesus if he too might take part in the miracle. At first Peter also walked upon the stormy waves, but when he took his eyes off the Master, he began to sink beneath the waves. Even in this moment of peril, Peter trusted in Jesus and cried out for Jesus to save him. When they were both safely in the boat and Jesus again calmed the sea, the disciples have the answer to their question about Jesus' true identity and they bow down in worship, declaring "Truly, you are the Son of God" (Mt 14:33). They were beginning to grasp Jesus' true identity as the I AM promised by the prophet Ezekiel who has come to condemn the failed shepherds of Israel and to reclaim His lost sheep (Ez 34:10-16).

Chapter 16

Structure of Matthew chapter 16 can be divided into five parts:

  1. The Pharisees demand a sign and Jesus responds (verses 1-4)
  2. Jesus' warning to avoid the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees (verses 5-12)
  3. Peter's profession of the Christ and the Son of God founds His Church (verses 13-20)
  4. The first prediction of the Passion (verses 21-23)
  5. Jesus states the conditions of discipleship (verses 24-28)

Matthew 16:1-4 ~ The Pharisees and Sadducees Demand a Sign from Heaven
1 The Pharisees and Sadducees came and, to test him, asked him to show them a sign from heaven. 2 He said to them in reply, "(in the evening you say, Tomorrow will be fair, for the sky is red'; 3 and, in the morning, Today will be stormy, for the sky is red and threatening.' You know how to judge the appearance of the sky, but you cannot judge the signs of the times.) 4 An evil and unfaithful [adulterous] generation seeks a sign, but no sign will be given it except the sign of Jonah." Then he left them and went away. (..) this passage does not appear in all manuscripts; [..] = literal translation (The Interlinear Bible: Greek-English, vol. IV, pages 46-47).

This is the second time Jesus has been asked to produce a "sign" that His authority comes from God (12:38), but this time it isn't just the Pharisees and scribes who are asking. The Sadducees have also come from Jerusalem to demand that Jesus produce a sign from heaven to authenticate His claims (i.e., 9:6). Both groups are refusing to accept His exorcisms and healings as evidence of the authentication of His claims. That they are united in their desire to "test" Jesus (verse 1) may suggest a link to Satan who also tested Jesus (Mt 4:1-11). Jesus has already referred to the Pharisees and scribes who oppose Him as the "sons" of Satan when He called them a "brood of vipers" and accused them of being evil (Mt 12:34).

Question: What did Jesus tell the Pharisees and scribes who demanded a sign in 12:38-42?
Answer: Jesus called them an "evil and unfaithful/adultrous generation" and told them no sign would be given except the "sign of Jonah."

The Sadducees were rivals of the Pharisees; both groups competed for the approval and support of the people. Most of the chief priests were Sadducees. This is the first of several occasions where the two groups will be united in their opposition to Jesus.

Question: Why are they asking for a "sign from heaven"/from God and what kind of sign are they demanding as proof that His authority comes from God if His words of healing of the sick, restoring of the physical disabled, casting out demons and raising the dead are not enough?
Answer: Their purpose is to discredit Jesus in front of the people. They are probably asking for a sign like the Theophany at Sinai.

Matthew 16:2-3 ~ He said to them in reply, "[in the evening you say, Tomorrow will be fair, for the sky is red'; 3 and, in the morning, Today will be stormy, for the sky is red and threatening.' You know how to judge the appearance of the sky, but you cannot judge the signs of the times.] The bracketed passage is not found in a number of important Greek manuscripts of Matthew, but it is similar to a passage in Luke 12:54-56.

Question: What is Jesus' response to their demand for a sign from God in this passage?
Answer: He tells them they apparently know how to read the signs of the weather but cannot read the "signs of the times," meaning they cannot or will not interpret His miracles as signs of His authority and the beginning of the Messianic Age as predicted in the writings of the prophets.

Matthew 16:4 ~ An evil and unfaithful (adulterous) generation seeks a sign, but no sign will be given it except the sign of Jonah." Then he left them and went away.

Question: When did Jesus make this same charge previously and what is significant about Jesus using the charge of adultery in the literal translation? See the chart "Symbolic Images of the Old Testament Prophets."
Answer: Jesus' accusation that His generation is "adulterous," means that they are unfaithful to Yahweh who is Israel's divine Bridegroom; it is another symbolic image of the prophets "marriage" imagery for Israel's covenant relationship with God. When the Israelites become "unfaithful" to their covenant obligations they are behaving like an adulterous wife. Jesus made the same charge in 12:39.

Question: Once again Jesus tells His opponents that the only sign they will be given is the "sign of Jonah." What is that sign? See 12:39-40 and CCC 994.
Answer: Using the "sign" of the prophet Jonah who was inside the belly of the whale (or great fish) for three days before he was released, Jesus predicted His death and Resurrection as the only sign they will see.

Matthew 16:5-12 ~ Jesus' Warning against the Teaching of the Failed Leadership of the Old Covenant
5 In coming to the other side of the sea, the disciples had forgotten to bring bread. 6 Jesus said to them, "Look out, and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees." 7 They concluded among themselves, saying, "It is because we have brought no bread." 8 When Jesus became aware of this he said, "You of little faith, why do you conclude among yourselves that it is because you have no bread? 9 Do you not yet understand, and do you not remember the five loaves for the five thousand, and how many wicker baskets you took up? 10 Or the seven loaves for the four thousand, and how many baskets you took up? 11 How do you not comprehend that I was not speaking to you about bread? Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees." 12 Then they understood that he was not telling them to beware of the leaven of bread, but of the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees.

There are some amusing elements to this exchange between Jesus and His disciples. Jesus is still focused on His confrontation with the Pharisees and Sadducees and uses leaven as a symbol of their false interpretation of the Law and their evil influence that spreads like an infection in the same way yeast expands dough. The disciples, however, are more concerned about their empty stomachs "their focus is more on the material than the spiritual.

Question: How does Jesus point out that it is ridiculous for them to be concerned about the lack of bread?
Answer: He reminds them of the two miracle feedings. If He can feed more than five thousand and more than four thousand He can certainly provide for their needs.

When Jesus repeats His warning, they suddenly understand that Jesus is comparing leaven to the false teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees.(1) A small amount of leaven can ferment the whole batch of dough (13:33) but the wrong amount can also cause the dough to go bad (1 Cor 5:6; Gal 5:9) just as the false doctrine of the Pharisees and Sadducees threatens to misguide the people (Mt 15:14).

Matthew 16:13-20 ~ St. Peter's Profession of the Christ and Jesus Proclaims the Founding of His Church
13 When Jesus went into the region of Caesarea Philippi he asked his disciples, "Who do people say that the Son of Man is?" 14 They replied, "Some say John the Baptist, others Elijah, still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets." 15 He said to them, "But who do you say that I am?" 16 Simon Peter said in reply, "You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God." 17 Jesus said to him in reply, "Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah. For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father. 18 And so I say to you, you are Peter [Petros], and upon this rock [petra] I will build my Church [ekklesia], and the gates of the netherworld [Hades] shall not prevail against it. 19 I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven." 20 Then he strictly ordered his disciples to tell no one that he was the Messiah. [..] = literal translation (The Interlinear Bible: Greek-English, vol. IV, pages 47-48 ).

Jesus led His disciples to the region of Caesarea Philippi, about 40 km (more than 20 miles) north of the Sea of Galilee). Caesarea Philippi was a town (also described as a collection of villages in Mk 8:27) located on the southern slope of Mount Hermon, strategically located on the border with Syria. It was located in what had been the territory of the Israelite tribe of Dan that was at one time the northern boundary of the Promised Land. At this time it was part of the tetrarchy of Herod the Great's son Philip and had a largely Gentile population. It was near the site of one of the springs that was a source of the Jordan River, the site of which was considered to be a spiritual location from the time of the Canaanite inhabitants who built shrines to Baal-gad (Josh 11:17; 12:7; 13:5) and Baal-hermon (Judg 3:3; 1 Chr 5:23). After the Greek conquest in the 4th century BC, the Greeks dedicated a shrine to Pan (pagan god of nature, shepherds, flocks, the spring and fertility) at the site where the headwaters of the Jordan River emerged from the ground (Josephus, Antiquities, 15.10.3 [364]). They also named the nearly town Panias after the Greek god. Then, in the latter part of the 1st century BC, Herod the Great built a temple to Caesar Augustus near the source of the Jordan River. When Philip became the ruler of the region, he rebuilt the small town of Panias into a Hellenistic city, naming it after the Roman Caesar and adding his own name.(2) In choosing this rocky mountain location to announce the foundation of His Church upon Peter and Peter's proclamation of faith in Jesus as the divine Messiah, Jesus was reclaiming holy ground that had been usurped by the pagans.

Question: Using His favorite title for Himself, what does Jesus ask the disciples and why do they respond the way they do?
Answer: He asks what was the common view of the people concerning His identity, and they respond that some think He is John the Baptist returned from the dead like Herod Antipas (Mt 14:2), others think He is the prophet Elijah who was prophesied to herald the coming of the Messiah (Mal 3:23/4:5), while others say Jesus has come in the spirit of the prophet Jeremiah or one of the other prophets.

All of the men mentioned by the disciples were prophets. While there had been many false prophets, the people realized that the true spirit of prophecy had been absent from the people of God since the last prophet Malachi in the 5th century BC. The coming of God's supreme prophet as promised in Deuteronomy 18:15-19 and an outpouring of God's Spirit (Ez 36:26-27; Joel 3:1-2) were the signs that the people believed heralded the coming of the Messianic Age. Jesus was teaching with authority, speaking in the symbolic language of the prophets and performing miracles and symbolic acts like the prophets.

Question: Does Jesus ever refer to Himself as a prophet? See Mt 13:57 and Lk 13:33.
Answer: Yes, Jesus referred to Himself as a prophet during His visit to Nazareth and will again before He goes to Jerusalem to die.

Then Jesus asks His disciples what they believe about His true identity.

Question: How does St. Peter respond to Jesus' question concerning His true identity?
Answer: Peter confesses that He is not only the Messiah but that He is the Son of the Living God.

Question: What does Peter mean using these titles for Jesus in his confession of faith? See CCC 441-42.
Answer: While the usual meaning of the title "son of God" in the Old Testament referred to a form of adoption as "sons" of God for angels, prophets, the children of Israel, Davidic kings, etc., this is not the way Peter offers his confession of Jesus' identity. It is Jesus' response which tells us that Peter understands Jesus' true identity as the divine Son of God the Father.

Matthew 16:17 ~ Jesus said to him in reply, "Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah. For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father (emphasis added).

Question: What does Jesus' response reveal to the reader?
Answer: Acknowledging Peter's confession of faith, Jesus blesses him and tells the assembled disciples that Simon-Peter received this knowledge not from any human person ("flesh and blood") but, by the grace of God the Father, Peter has received a divine revelation of Jesus' true nature.

Matthew 16:18 ~ And so I say to you, you are Peter [Petros], and upon this rock [petra] I will build my Church, and the gates of the netherworld [Hades] shall not prevail against it.

Jesus would have been speaking in Aramaic and the Aramaic translation of the key words for "rock" in Jesus' statement would have been in English: "You are the Rock [Kepa] and upon this rock [kepa] I will build my Church." In response to Peter's confession of faith, Jesus reaffirms the new name He gave him when Jesus first met him on the banks of the Jordan River before He began His ministry in the Galilee. At that time He said, "You are Simon the son of John; you will be called Kephas" (which is translated Peter) (Jn 1:42; emphasis added; also see Mk 3:16 and Lk 6:14 for evidence an earlier name change).

Kephas is the Greek transliteration of the Aramaic word kepa which means "rock."(3) In the Greek text Matthew uses the masculine Petros for the Greek feminine word for "rock" which is petra. Bible scholars and historians have not found any evidence that either Kepha or Petros were used as personal names prior to Jesus conferring the name on Simon as the leader of the Apostles to symbolize his change in destiny from humble fisherman to the foundation stone of the Messiah's community of disciples (NJB Study Edition, page 1637, footnote "f").

Notice that Jesus identified the name of Peter's father as "John" (Yehohanan in Hebrew) in John 1:42. This same name for Peter's father is given in John 21:15, 16 and 17. However, in verse 17 Jesus calls him Simeon bar Jonah (Matthew uses the Aramaic word for son, "bar" instead of the Hebrew, "ben"). This is the sixth time Jesus has mentioned the Galilean prophet Jonah (see Mt 12:39, 40, 41 twice, and 16:4 or the chart in handout 1 of Lesson 16), symbolically linking the prophet Jonah to Jesus' mission. This time Jesus links Jonah to Peter's mission.

Question: If Simon-Peter was the son of a man named "John," then why did Jesus call Peter "Simon son of Jonah"? How are Peter's mission and Jonah's mission alike?
Answer: Jonah was a Galilean who was sent by God to the Gentile people of Nineveh, the capital city of the region's super-power, the Assyrian Empire, to tell them to repent and to acknowledge the God of Israel. Jesus will send the Galilean, Simon-Peter, to Rome, the capital city of the region's super-power, the Roman Empire, to tell the Gentiles of the Roman world to repent and to accept Jesus as Lord-God and Savior.

Jesus changed Simon's name to Kepha "Rock, Petros in Greek and Peter in the English transliteration of the Greek name. A change in the name of a servant of God signifies a change in destiny, as in Hoshea's name change to Yehoshua/Joshua (Num 13:16). In the Old Testament "rock" was a word used to describe Abraham as the physical father from whom the children of Israel were hewn (Is 51:1-2). Rock is not just an adjective used to describe Peter as the spiritual father of the New Covenant children of God. Jesus uses the word as a personal name signifying a change in Simon's destiny as the leader and foundation "rock" of Jesus' Church (CCC 881). The Greek text uses the word ekklesia, meaning "called out." It is a word meant to define Jesus' assembly of believers. It is a word that in English is best translated as "Church" and expresses same meaning as the Hebrew word for the assembly of the chosen people who were the kahal, the "called out" ones "those called out of the world and into covenant with Yahweh.(4)

and the gates of the netherworld [Hades] shall not prevail against it. Hades is the Greek word for the abode of the dead; in Hebrew the realm of the dead is Sheol. This realm of the dead was conceived of as a walled city in which its inhabitants were imprisoned. In this statement Jesus promises that His Church will not be overcome by the power of death "the Church of His heavenly kingdom will overcome death.

Matthew 16:19 ~ I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.

Question: What three spiritual gifts does Peter receive in Jesus' blessing in verses 17-19?
Answer: Peter has been given divine insight, power and authority. He has the authority to forgive sins or to bind sins (thus controlling the entrance into the heavenly kingdom) and is commissioned as the leader of the Apostles and the entire community of believers that will become the New Covenant Church.

Question: Jesus has elevated Simon-Peter above his fellow Apostles to be the leader of Jesus' ministers and the Vicar of His Kingdom. How is the office of the Davidic Vicar/Prime Minister Eliakim described in Isaiah 22:20-25?
Answer:

In the same way, Peter is now called to serve as the Vicar of Christ the King and have authority over His Kingdom of heaven on earth, the Church "the "household/family of Christ. Jesus' giving Peter the "keys of the kingdom of heaven" is Peter's official elevation to the office of Vicar of Christ's Kingdom and the shepherd of the whole flock (also see Jn 21:15-17; CCC 553). Peter's office, established by Jesus Christ and the pastoral office of the other Apostles as Christ's lesser ministers forms an apostolic college that belongs to the foundation of the Church. These are offices founded by Christ that are continued in the primacy of the Pope and the universal Magisterium of the bishops (CCC 869, 880-81).

Question: The responsibilities of Peter's high office have been passed down to Christ's Vicars who have succeeded him. How is the authority of the Popes of the Catholic Church, the Vicars of Christ who have succeeded St. Peter, the same as the Davidic Vicars?

Answer:

Question: Unlike the Davidic Vicar in Isaiah 22:22, Peter will be given the "keys" plural. What are the two keys that are in Peter's control?
Answer: The two keys refer to the power Peter has to "bind and loose" sins, controlling the keys that give access to the kingdom of heaven "the key that releases man from the gates of death in Sheol/Hades and the key that provides entry into the gates of heaven.

Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.

The authority to "bind and loose" will be repeated to Peter and the college of Apostles (Mt 18:18) and is reaffirmed after Jesus' Resurrection when Jesus breaths the Holy Spirit upon the Apostles and tells them: "Peace be with you, as the Father has sent me, so I send you." And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, "Receive the holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained" (Jn 20:21-23).

Question: What authority did Jesus give Peter and the Apostles and their successors in using the metaphors of binding and loosing? See CCC 553, 1441-45.
Answer: The power to bind and loose is exercised by Christ's Vicar and the Magisterium:

From this time forward, the acknowledgement of Jesus' divine sonship will become the confession of apostolic faith revealed by God, first spoken by Peter and the Apostles and disciples, and repeated by the faithful across the world today; it is on the rock of this faith, confessed by Peter, that Christ built His Church (CCC 424).

Matthew 16:20 ~ Then he strictly ordered his disciples to tell no one that he was the Messiah. According to the Gospel of St. John, this is the second year of Jesus' ministry. Jesus warns the disciples not to reveal His true identity. Such a declaration would serve to intensify the enmity of the Pharisees and Sadducees and it is not yet time for the climax of salvation history's great drama of the revelation of the Messiah. However, now that His disciples know His true identity, Jesus will begin to prepare them for the traumatic events they are destined to experience.

Matthew 16:21-23 ~ Jesus' First Prediction of the Passion
21 From that time on, Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer greatly from the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed and on the third day be raised. 22 Then Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, "God forbid, Lord! No such thing shall ever happen to you." 23 He turned and said to Peter, "Get behind me, Satan! You are an obstacle to me. You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do."

Verse 21 announces a turning point in Jesus' ministry. This is the first of three predictions that Jesus gives concerning His Passion (also see Mt 17:22-23; 20:17-19). In sharing this secret with the disciples, Jesus is correcting the common misperception that the Messiah is coming in triumph and glory to vanquish Israel's enemies and to re-establish the Davidic kingdom on earth just as it had been in the past in the glory days of kings David and Solomon. Jesus' revelation of His suffering and death in fulfillment of Isaiah's prophecies of the Suffering Servant (Is 52:13-53:12) marks a new phase in Jesus' ministry, as Matthew introduces with the phrase "From that time on ..." (Mt 16:21). See the chart Isaiah's Suffering Servant fulfilled in Jesus of Nazareth.

The reference to the "third day" in verse 21, in addition to being a link to the "sign of Jonah" may also be meant to recall Hosea 6:1-2: In their affliction, they shall look for me: "Come, let us return to the LORD, for it is he who has rent, but he will heal us; he has struck us, but he will bind our wounds. He will revive us after two days; on the third day he will raise us up, to live in his presence.

Question: Why does Peter resist what Jesus has told the disciples about His suffering and death, and why does Jesus rebuke him so harshly? Hint: Peter may be thinking of the fate of other chief priests opposed God's plan in favor of their own (see Lev 10:1-2).
Answer: Peter now understands that Jesus is the divine Messiah "He is God Himself come to gather His scattered people and fulfill the prophecy of Ezekiel chapter 34. Peter knows the Temple hierarchy has no power over the Christ and so he cannot comprehend why Jesus would allow Himself to be killed by those in authority over the Church of the Sinai Covenant when He could simply consume them in holy fire like the rebellious priestly sons of Aaron. Jesus rebukes Peter because he has voiced opposition to God's plan when he should be humbly accepting God's plan and assisting Jesus in His mission.

The Hebrew word satan means adversary. Whenever one stands as an adversary to God's plan for man's salvation that person is indeed acting as Satan in human form. Jesus' rebuke of Peter is similar to His rebuke of Satan in Matthew 4:10.

Matthew 16:24-28 ~ Jesus States the Conditions of Discipleship
24 Then Jesus said to his disciples, "Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me. 25 For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. 26 What profit would there be for one to gain the whole world and forfeit his life? Or what can one give in exchange for his life? 27 For the Son of Man will come with his angels in his Father's glory, and then he will repay everyone according to his conduct. 28 Amen, I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom."

Jesus uses the image of a cross, an instrument of death in the execution of criminals, as a shocking metaphor for the obedience of discipleship.

Question: What is Jesus condition for true discipleship?
Answer: The willingness to disown one's self interest to the point of being willing to die for Jesus.

Verse 27 is a prophecy of the return of Christ (the Parousia) after His Ascension and the Last Judgment, but in the next verse Jesus says that there are those standing in His presence who will witness the Son of Man coming in His kingdom. The coming in His glory and the coming of His Kingdom are two different events.

Question: What is "the Kingdom" of Jesus Christ in verse 28? See Mt 13:38 and 41.
Answer: According to the Parable of the Weeds and the Wheat, the Kingdom of the Son of Man is the world and the Church is the place where His kingdom is manifested.

Jesus' sovereignty over the world will be established in His glorious Resurrection when He has defeated sin and death. His sovereignty over the world precedes His Second Coming in glory in the event of the Parousia. Those who will live to see the Son of Man "coming in His Kingdom" are those who will live to see His glorious Resurrection and Ascension. The phrase the Son of Man coming in his kingdom is probably also a reference to Daniel's vision: I saw One like a son of man coming on the clouds of heaven; when he reached the Ancient One and was presented before him, he received dominion, glory, and kingship; nations and peoples of every language serve him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that shall not be taken away, his kingship shall not be destroyed (Dan 7:13-14). Jesus will refer to this passage at His trial before the Jewish Sanhedrin (Mt 26:64; Mk 14:61-64).

Chapter 17

Chapter 17 is divided into five parts:

  1. The Son of God transfigured (verses 1-8)
  2. Identifying Elijah (verses 9-13)
  3. Healing of a boy possessed by a demon (verses 14-21)
  4. The second prediction of the Passion (verses 22-23)
  5. Jesus pays the Temple tax (verses 24-27)

Matthew 17:1-8 ~ The Transfiguration of Jesus Christ "the Greater than Moses
1 After six days Jesus took Peter, James, and John his brother, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. 2 And he was transfigured before them; his face shone like the sun and his clothes became white as light. 3 And behold, Moses and Elijah appeared to them, conversing with him. 4 Then Peter said to Jesus in reply, "Lord, it is good that we are here. If you wish, I will make three tents here, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah." 5 While he was still speaking, behold, a bright cloud cast a shadow over them, then from the cloud came a voice that said, "This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him." 6 When the disciples heard this, they fell prostrate and were very much afraid. 7 But Jesus came and touched them, saying, "Rise, and do not be afraid." 8 And when the disciples raised their eyes, they saw no one else but Jesus alone.

The disciples and Apostles must have been frightened and discouraged after Jesus' prediction of His death. To give them a vision to grasp in their darkest hour when the prediction of His death is fulfilled, Jesus took three Apostles, Peter, James, and John, up a "high mountain" to let them witness a manifestation of His glory that confirms He is the Son of God and that He will come in glory when all has been fulfilled. These three Apostles will also be taken apart from the others when Jesus faces His agony in the Garden of Gethsemane.

Question: What significance can be attached to the location of this experience on a mountain? See Gen 22:2, 11; Ex 19:16-20; 1 Kng 18:19-39; 19:11-18; 1 Chr 21:15-17; 2 Chr 3:1; and Mt 5:1-2.
Answer: Mighty works/revelations of God often took place on mountains, including the Theophany of God on Mt. Sinai.

As the new Moses, Jesus ascends the mountain "not to find a revelation of God but to give a revelation of God the Son to His three Apostles. This narrative is one of the few outside of the Passion narrative in Matthew's Gospel that contains a chronological tie. Verse 1 discloses that it was six days after Peter's confession of Jesus as the Messiah and Son of God that they came to "a high mountain" (also see Mk 9:2). Some of the Fathers of the Church interpret the "after six days" to suggest they ascended the mountain on the seventh day, like Moses in Exodus: After Moses had gone up, a cloud covered mountain. The glory of the LORD settled upon Mount Sinai. The cloud covered it for six days, and on the seventh day he called to Moses from the midst of the cloud (Ex 24:15-16).

There are two traditions identifying the mountain. One tradition names Mt. Hermon at Caesarea Philippi, but the more popular tradition names Mt. Tabor, an isolated mountain about six days journey from Caesarea Philippi, west of the Sea of Galilee in the northeast portion of the Plain of Esdraelon that rises to a height of 1,843 feet. Mt. Tabor has been celebrated as the site of the Transfiguration since the 4th century AD.

Question: What do Moses and Elijah represent in Sacred Scripture?
Answer: They represent the Law and the prophets.

Matthew 17:2 ~ And he was transfigured before them; his face shone like the sun and his clothes became white as light. In Greek the word "transfigured" is metamorphoo.

Question: ...his face shone like the sun and his cloths became white as light recalls what description of a prophet in the Old Testament? See Ex 34:29-35.
Answer: The description recalls Moses' radiant face after being in the presence of God.

Jesus' radiant appearance and His white garment also recalls Daniel's vision of the "man" (probably the pre-Incarnate Christ) dressed in linen with a belt of fine gold around his waist, whose "body was like chrysolite, his face shone like lightening, his eyes were like fiery torches, his arms and feet looked like burnished bronze, and his voice sounded like the roar of a multitude (Dan 10:5-6).

Matthew 17:3 ~ And behold, Moses and Elijah appeared to them, conversing with him.

In St. Luke's account of the Transfiguration, he tells us that Moses and Elijah also appeared in glory and discussed with Jesus the coming hour of His "exodus," meaning His departure, "from Jerusalem" (Lk 9:30-31).

The disciples and Apostles knew Jesus in His human form, but in the encounter on the Mount of Transfiguration, Jesus revealed Himself in His divine glory to the hierarchy of His Church, Simon-Peter and the brothers James and John Zebedee, in the presence of the Old Covenant law-giver and liberator, Moses, and the prophet Elijah. In the epiphany on the Mount of Transfiguration, the three Apostles witnessed the coming together of the Old and New Covenants with Christ as the beginning and the end of divine revelation. The Old Covenant Church was represented by Moses and Elijah who embodied the law and the prophets of the old Israel, and the New Covenant was represented by Peter, James, and John who embodied the hierarchy of the new Israel, the Church of the people of the Kingdom of Heaven on Earth. It was a vision of the supernatural the Apostles would need to strengthen themselves and their brother Apostles in the covenant ordeal they were to face in the final year of Jesus' ministry.

Matthew 17:4 ~ Then Peter said to Jesus in reply, "Lord, it is good that we are here. If you wish, I will make three tents here, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah."

John's Gospel does not mention the Transfiguration. St. John rarely repeats what has been sufficiently covered in the Synoptic Gospels, but he does mention in the second year of Jesus' ministry that Jesus went to Jerusalem for the pilgrim feast of Sukkoth, known in English as the Feast of Booths (Jn 7:1-2, 10). The covenant obligations for the festival are given in Lev 23:33-43. In verse 42 God commanded: During this week every native Israelite among you shall dwell in booths, that your descendants may realize that, when I led the Israelites out of the land of Egypt, I made them dwell in booths, I, the LORD am your God."(5)

Question: If it was indeed near the time for the pilgrim feast of Booths, Peter's suggestion about making booths/tents on the mountain is reasonable. If this is the case, what has Peter realized? Notice that Jesus does not rebuke Peter.
Answer: Peter has realized that the old covenant order is no longer binding and it is not necessary to go to the Jerusalem Temple to worship God when they can worship God the Son on the mountain.

If this is why Peter made the suggestion about building booths, then the event of the Transfiguration took place near the time of the festival of Booths. Daniel Harrington suggests the six days in verse 1 may refer to the six days (as the ancients counted) between Yom Kippur/Day of Atonement), beginning on the 10th , and the beginning of the Feast of Booths on the 15th of Tishri; see Lev 23:27, 33 (Harrington, The Gospel of Matthew, page 253). However, if it is already the beginning of the festival of Booths then Jesus and the disciples should have already been in Jerusalem and were in violation of the Law concerning the pilgrim feasts (Ex 23:14-17; 34:18-23; Dt 16:5-17; 2 Chr 8:13). Jesus said not one part of the Law would be rejected until "all things have taken place," meaning His death and resurrection (Mt 5:17-18), and St. John tells us that Jesus did travel to Jerusalem for the Feast of Booths in the second year of His ministry (Jn chapters 7-8).

Matthew 17:5 ~ While he was still speaking, behold, a bright cloud cast a shadow over them, then from the cloud came a voice that said, "This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.

The word for the shadow of the cloud cast over them is episkiazo; it is the same word found in the account of the Holy Spirit overshadowing the Virgin Mary in the Incarnation (Lk 1:35) and the same word that is used in the Greek translation of Exodus when God's Spirit overshadowed the Ark of the Covenant (Ex 40:34). A cloud is a frequent vehicle for God's presence in Scripture (Ex 16:10; 19:9; 24:15-16; 33:9 and 2 Mac 2:8). The Divine Voice is the same voice heard at Jesus' baptism (Mt 3:17).

Question: How is this significant event in which Jesus is "transfigured" tied both in time and meaning to the event of Peter's confession of the Christ and his refusal to accept Jesus' prediction of His coming Passion? What is the message of the Divine Voice the Apostles hear from heaven?
Answer: The pronouncement of the Divine Voice, "this is my beloved Son," is confirmation of Peter's confession of Jesus as Messiah and Son of God and the words "listen to Him" are a rebuke of Peter's refusal to listen to Jesus' announcement of His coming Passion.

The command of the Divine Voice of God from heaven, "Listen to Him," is not only a rebuke of Peter but also a confirmation that Jesus is the prophet like Moses that God promised the people in Deuteronomy 18:15-19. That prophecy ends with a promise and a command: I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their kinsmen, and will put my words into his mouth; he shall tell them all that I command. If any man will not listen to my words which he speaks in my name, I myself will make him answer for it (Dt 18:18-19).

Matthew 17:6-8 ~ When the disciples heard this, they fell prostrate and were very much afraid. 7 But Jesus came and touched them, saying, "Rise, and do not be afraid." 8 And when the disciples raised their eyes, they saw no one else but Jesus alone.

Like the children of Israel who heard the voice of God in the Theophany at Sinai (Ex 20:18) and like the prophet Daniel experiencing the divine (Dan 9:15-18; 10:7-9) the three Apostles are filled with fear and fall to the ground. Jesus immediately comforts them, as Daniel was comforted by the "man dressed in linen with a belt of fine gold with burning eyes" who told him not to be afraid (Dan 10:10-12) and when they raise their eyes Jesus was as He was before the transfiguration.

Matthew 17:9-13 ~ The Coming of Elijah
9 As they were coming down from the mountain, Jesus charged them, "Do not tell the vision to anyone until the Son of Man has been raised from the dead." 10 Then the disciples asked him, "Why do the scribes say that Elijah must come first?" He said in reply, "Elijah will indeed come and restore all things; 12 but I tell you that Elijah has already come, and they did not recognize him but did to him whatever they pleased. So also will the Son of Man suffer at their hands. 13 Then the disciples understood that he was speaking to them of John the Baptist.

Coming down from the mountain, Jesus commands the disciples again not to make known what they have discovered about Jesus' true identity (16:20). The disciples know Jesus' true identity but they are confused about the identity of the prophet Elijah who Malachi prophesied would return to announce the coming of the "Day of the Lord" (Mal 3:23-24/4:5-6). Jesus clears up their confusion by identifying John the Baptist as the one who was to come in the spirit of Elijah and includes that He too will suffer at the hands of the same kind of men who killed the Baptist "fulfilling the prophecy of the Messiah as Isaiah's Suffering Servant (Is 52:13-53:12).

The Transfiguration of the Christ presents the Apostles and the reader with the full mystery of Jesus' true identity. The miraculous transformation of the human Jesus into the glorified Divine Son puts the coming Passion and death of Jesus into perspective by giving the Apostles the assurance that Jesus' suffering and death will end in the triumph of His glorious Resurrection on the third day, as He has tried to tell them.

Matthew 17:14-21 ~ The Healing of a Demon Possessed Boy
14 When they came to the crowd a man approached, knelt down before him, 15 and said, "Lord, have pity on my son, for he is a lunatic and suffers severely; often he falls into fire, and often into water. 16 I brought him to your disciples, but they could not cure him." 17 Jesus said in reply, "O faithless and perverse generation, how long will I be with you? How long will I endure you? Bring him here to me." 18 Jesus rebuked him and the demon came out of him, and from that hour the boy was cured. 19 Then the disciples approached Jesus in private and said, "Why could we not drive it out?" 20 He said to them, "Because of your little faith. Amen, I say to you, if you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, Move from here to there,' and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you. 21 [But this kind does not come out except by prayer and fasting.]" [..] = this verse does not appear in all manuscripts, but it is included in the same account in Mark 9:29.

Having come down from the mountain a crowd is waiting for Jesus. While Jesus, Peter, James and John have been absent for about a week, the other disciples have been healing the sick but not always successfully. A man approaches, kneels before Jesus and asks Him to heal his "lunatic" (or more literally his "moonstruck") son who the disciples have been unable to heal. The use of this word in describing the boy's illness as one adversely affected by the moon is unique, appearing in the New Testament only here and in Matthew 4:24. It may have been that the boy suffered from epilepsy, thought at one time to be brought on by certain phases of the moon.

Matthew 17:17 ~ 17 Jesus said in reply, "O faithless and perverse generation, how long will I be with you? How long will I endure you?

Once again Jesus describes His generation "this time using the same word for "perverse" that Moses used in Deuteronomy 32:5 in the Septuagint translation (Harrington, Gospel of Matthew, page 257). The question is to whom is this rebuke addressed? Is it addressed to the disciples who have failed to heal the boy because they did not have enough faith or to the crowd? Perhaps His rebuke is for both. The only one who seems to have enough faith is the boy's father. It is not until Jesus heals the boy that we know in verse 18 that the illness is caused by a demon.

Question: The disciples ask Jesus why they were unable to heal the boy. What is His response?
Answer: Jesus tells them it was their "little faith." Not enough faith continues to be a problem for the disciples. He also tells them that in this case fasting and prayer working together with faith was necessary.

Keep in mind that "little faith" is not the same as "lacking faith" as in the case of Jesus' neighbors in Nazareth (Mt 13:58).

Question: What is the point of the little parable of the mustard seed and the mountain? See Mt 13:31-32; Is 40:4; 49:11; 54:10.
Answer: This parable is an extension of the one Jesus told in about the tremendous growth of a mustard seed, comparing it to the growth of the Kingdom from a small beginning. Faith can begin small and if nourished by the grace of God even a little faith can grow to become powerful enough to "move a mountain." The point is moving a mountain is an act of God and great faith can be rewarded by God in making mighty acts on behalf of the believer.

Matthew 17:22-23 ~ The Second Prediction of Jesus' Passion
22 As they were gathering in Galilee, Jesus said to them, "The Son of Man is to be handed over to men, 23 and they will kill him and he will be raised on the third day." And they were overwhelmed with grief.

Returning to the Galilee from the trip to the Mt. of Transfiguration, Jesus gives the second prophecy of His Passion. This time the disciples understand and are "overwhelmed with grief."

Matthew 17:24-27 ~ Jesus Pays the Temple Tax
24 When they came to Capernaum, the collectors of the temple tax [didrachma =two drachma] approached Peter and said, "Doesn't your teacher pay the temple tax [didrachma = two drachma]? 25 "Yes," he said. When he came into the house, before he had time to speak, Jesus asked him, "What is your opinion, Simon? From whom do the kings of the earth take tolls or census tax? From their subjects [sons] or from foreigners [strangers]?" 26 When he said "From foreigners [strangers]," Jesus said to him, "Then the subjects [sons] are exempt. 27 But that we may not offend them, go to the sea, drop in a hook, and take the first fish that comes up. Open its mouth and you will find a coin worth twice the temple tax, give that to them for me and for you." [..] = literal translation (The Interlinear Bible: Greek-English, vol. IV, page 51).

Having arrived back in Capernaum, Peter is approached by the tax men collecting the Greek coinage of the double drachma for the Temple tax that supported the upkeep of the Jerusalem Temple. We know from Matthew 9:9 that there is a tax office in Capernaum.

Question: Why do they come to Peter and not to Jesus?
Answer: The people, including the tax collectors, recognize Peter as Jesus' second in command and his spokesman.

After the return from the Babylonian exile and the building of the Second Temple, a annual Temple tax of a third of a shekel was levied on every Jewish man for the maintenance of the Jerusalem Temple (see Neh 10:32). Later the price of the tax was raised to a half-shekel with the excuse that it was in compliance with the contribution collected from the Israelites to build the desert Sanctuary (Ex 30:11-16). Philo of Alexandria and Josephus wrote that even Jews living outside the Holy Land felt the sacred obligation to pay the Temple tax (Philo, Special Laws, 1:77; Josephus, Antiquities, 18.9.1 [312]).(6) Since Peter knows that Jesus faithfully fulfills all the covenant obligations required of a Jew, he answers that his Master does indeed pay the tax. Two Greek drachma (didrachma in the literal translation) was the Greek monetary equivalent of the Jewish half-shekel and was equal to about two days' wages for an adult male laborer (Mitch and Sri, The Gospel of Matthew, page 222).

Mathew 17:25-26 ~ When he came into the house, before he had time to speak, Jesus asked him, "What is your opinion, Simon? From whom do the kings of the earth take tolls or census tax? From their subjects [sons] or from foreigners [strangers]?" 26 When he said "From foreigners [strangers]," Jesus said to him, "Then the subjects [sons] are exempt.

The NAB has so poorly translated this passage that it is impossible to understand the point Jesus is making. The NAB scholars have interpreted the wording of verse 25, From whom do the kings of the earth take tolls or census tax? From their sons or from strangers? not in the literal sense Jesus intends. Instead they have interpreted the passage in the figurative sense that kings were "father" figures to the people over whom they ruled who were in turn figuratively their "sons." However, that interpretation does not fit the context of the passage. In ancient times, as today, the citizens of a country pay taxes "non-residents or "strangers" do not. As a resident/subject of the Galilee, Jesus would be obligated to pay taxes, but Jesus is making the argument as to why He is not obligated to pay the Temple tax.

Question: Reading the literal translation, what point is Jesus, the Son of God, making about paying the Temple tax? "What is your opinion, Simon? From whom do the kings of the earth take tolls or census tax? From their sons or from strangers?" 26 When he said "From strangers," Jesus said to him, "Then the sons are exempt."
Answer: Jesus is the Son of God; it is God who is King of the whole universe and He is God the Great King of Israel for whom the Temple was built. Jesus' argument is that according to the practice of earthly kings who do not tax their own sons, as the Son of God, Jesus should be exempt from paying the Temple tax to support His Father's house.

Matthew 17:27 ~ But that we may not offend them, go to the sea, drop in a hook, and take the first fish that comes up. Open its mouth and you will find a coin [stater] worth twice the temple tax, give that to them for me and for you."

A Greek stater equaled four drachmas and was equal in value to the Jewish shekel.

Question: What is the irony of how Jesus pays the Temple tax and why does He pay it for Himself and for Peter?
Answer: The irony is that Jesus pays the tax by a work of God "a miracle in which just the right amount of tax for both Jesus and Peter is discovered in a random fish. Jesus is identifying with His Jewishness and His present continuing commitment to the Sinai Covenant by submitting to the tax, and He is also providing for His Vicar who serves Him and is protected by Him.

Questions for group discussion:

Question: What kinds of mistakes were the Jewish crowds making about Jesus' identity in Matthew's Gospel? What kinds of mistakes are people still making today about Jesus' true identity in churches that have broken away from the Church founded by Jesus Christ upon the "rock" of Peter and his profession of faith at Caesarea Philippi?

Question: In Matthew 17:21 Jesus tells the disciples with faith "nothing will be impossible for you." What does He mean in the context of the angel Gabriel's reply to Mary in Luke 1:37, the LORD's reply to Abraham in Genesis 18:14 and His statement to Jeremiah in 32:27?

Question: What do you think was hindering the disciples' faith? In what ways do you think fear that our own faith is insufficient or that we are unworthy might be a problem for our spiritual growth?

Endnotes:

  1. There is probably a word play in Aramaic between the words "leaven," hamira and "teaching/word," amira (Harrington, The Gospel of Matthew, page 244).
  2. The region and town was called Panion until the time of the Roman conquest when it was called Paneas (Pliny, Natural History, 5.74). In 20 BC Caesar Augustus gave the district to Herod the Great Herod who built a magnificent marble Temple dedicated to the emperor near the cave-shrine of Pan on the mountain above the spring that was the source of the Jordan River (Josephus, Antiquities, 15.10.3 [360-61, 363-64]; Jewish Wars, 1.21.3 [404-5]). After Herod the Great's death the district passed to his son, Philip, who became tetrarch of Trachonitis. He re-built the city and named it Caesarea Philippi in honor of the Roman emperor and himself (Antiquities, 17.8.1 [189]; 18.2.1 [28]; Jewish Wars, 2.9.1 [168]). After Philips death in 33/34 AD his territory became part of the Roman province of Syria. The Romans emperor Nero awarded the territory to Herod Agrippa II in 53 AD, who enlarged the city again and renamed it Neronias in honor of the emperor (Antiquities, 20.9.4 [211]; Jewish Wars, 3.10.7 [514]). Today the town is known as Banias. That Matthew uses the name Caesarea Philippi helps to establish the date his Gospel was written "after Philip became the tetrarch (c. 4BC/1BC) and before 53 AD when Agrippa II renamed the city Neronias.
  3. St. Paul uses the Greek transliteration Kephas/Cephas for the Aramaic Kepa for Peter's name in his letters (1 Cor 1:12; 3:22; 9:5; 15:4; Gal 1:18; 2:9, 11, 14). The exception is Gal 2:7-8 in which St. Paul refers to Peter as Petros. In Jn 1:42 St. John uses both Kephas and Petros.
  4. The word ekklesia is only used in the Gospels three times in Mt 16:18 and in 18:17 twice. It is used in the other New Testament books seventy-seven times, including seven times in the book of Revelation.
  5. The Feast of Booths is also called the Feast of Shelters/Tabernacles and additional instructions concerning the sacrifices for the 8-day pilgrim feast are given in Num 29:12-38.
  6. After the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple by the Romans in 70 AD, the Romans continued to demand the Temple tax from the Jews but diverted the tax to pay for the temple of Jupiter in Rome (Josephus, Jewish Wars, 7.6.6 [218]).

Michal Hunt, Copyright © 2012 Agape Bible Study. Permissions All Rights Reserved.

Catechism references for this lesson (*indicates that Scripture is either quoted or paraphrased in the citation):

Mt 16:18

1969*

Mt 16:24-26

736*

Mt 16:16-23

440*

Mt 16:24

226*, 618, 2029

Mt 16:16

424, 442

Mt 16:25-26

363*

Mt 16:17

153, 442

Mt 16:25

2232*

Mt 16:18-19

881*

Mt 16:26

1021*

Mt 16:18

424*, 442*, 552, 586*, 869*

Mt 16:28

541, 543

Mt 16:19

553, 1444

Mt 17:1-8

554*

Mt 16:21-23

540*, 607*

Mt 17:5

444*

Mt 16:21

554

Mt 17:10-13

718

Mt 16:22-23

554*

Mt 17:23

554*

Mt 17:24-27

586*