The Lord Jesus had come to the region of Caesarea Philippi in the northern part of the land of Israel. He was reaching the conclusion of His Galilean ministry. Soon He would leave Galilee to labour in Perea and Judea as He moved toward His final and greatest work – His death and resurrection at Jerusalem. Near Caesarea Philippi, a city named in honour of the Roman emperor Tiberius Caesar and Philip the son of Herod the Great, Jesus asked His disciples two vital questions concerning His identity and foretold the building of His Church. The truth confessed by Peter that day - "Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God" (v 16 KJV) - is not only the foundation of Christ’s church, it is also at the heart of all that He spoke to His disciples as recorded in Matthew 16:21-27. His rejection and resurrection, the cost of being His follower or not and the day of recompense when He returns to establish His kingdom all find their significance in His identity.
Who He is matters and how we respond to Him determines the eternal destiny of our souls. We may choose to ignore Him, absolutely reject Him, but we will never escape Him.
1. “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-jonah" - Who Jesusis vs13-20
Apostolic Confession vs 13-18
The Lord’s Questions Answered vs 13-16
The Lord Jesus first asked His disciples as to who the people in general thought He was (v 13). In answering they said He was considered to be one of three unique prophets or perhaps one of the other OT prophets (v 14). The Lord Jesus was a prophet. He fulfilled the promise given to Moses in Deuteronomy 18:18 – “I will raise them up a Prophet from among their brethren, like unto thee, and will put My words in His mouth; and He shall speak unto them all that I shall command Him” (KJV). But Jesus is more than a prophet. The three men mentioned were Christ like men. John the Baptist was the herald of Jesus, Elijah the reformer of Israel and Jeremiah, God's 'prophet to the nations', yet great as these men were Jesus was greater, infinitely greater for He is uniquely “the Christ, the Son of the Living God.” This is what Peter confessed after Jesus asked His disciples: “But who doyou say that I am?” (vs 15-16). He questioned His disciples for He wanted them to be sure in their knowledge of Him. Peter knew this truth for God revealed it to Him and God revealed it to Him because Peter believed the word of Christ (v 17). His identity as Son of God emphasizes His relationship to God. All that God is Jesus is. He shares the life and attributes of His Father.
The Lord’s Promise Given vs 17-18
The Lord Jesus then promises upon ‘this rock’ – the truth Peter confessed about Him, “I will build My church.” He commenced to do just that on what is called ‘the day of Pentecost’ (Acts 2:1) at Jerusalem when the Holy Spirit came down from heaven fifty days after He had risen from the dead and ten days after His ascension to glory. He is still building it! It’s not a physical building of stone or brick nor is it a system or organization run by ecclesiastical prelates like many of the so called churches of ‘whatever’ that exist today. His church or congregation are His people, all those who have believed in Him and belong to Him the most of whom are already with Him in glory. We may call it the universal congregation of the Lord that spans the centuries and the continents whose members are in heaven as well as on earth. It continues and is growing from Pentecost till now and will be complete when the Lord finally gathers it all together unto Himself at His coming. It has one foundation and one head – the Lord Jesus. To be a member of His church does not require membership of any church on earth, it requires only that we through repentance and faith become true believers in the Lord Jesus. New birth is the absolute criteria for inclusion.
Jesus further assured His apostles that “the gates of hades shall not prevail against it.” Gates speak of power and authority. The power of death will not disintegrate His church nor will the opposing forces of evil destroy it. How so? Because He is its living head risen from death in glorious triumph as He said would be the case (v 21) and as He confirmed to the apostle John decades later reminding him that as the risen, glorified, living Lord He alone holds "the keys of Death and Hades" – Rev 1:18.
Apostolic Administration vs 19-20
Speaking of keys, the Lord Jesus promised Peter "the keys of the kingdom of heaven" (v 19). Christ would commence to build His church, but the work of the kingdom realized in His person and announced by His preaching – “Repent for the kingdom of heaven is near” – Matt 4:17 (NET) – would continue. The church was a new dimension, a special entity in the kingdom of heaven and so Peter’s leading role as His apostle in the administration of the kingdom of heaven here on earth had very particularly to do with the testimony of the church as it commenced and developed among the Jews and Gentiles of the first century world. Peter was given the keys of delegated authority as an apostolic administrator and thus along with his fellow apostles fulfilled a special role in doctrine or teaching, decision making and discipline based upon the truth they received from the Lord Jesus by the Holy Spirit. They represented Him on earth and carried out His will by binding and loosing, that is, by forbidding and permitting in terms of what should be practiced, who could be associated with the fellowship of the saints and who should be excluded (See Acts 5:1-11; 6:1-7; 8:9-24; 9:26-31; 11:1-18; 15:1-29). This was necessary for God’s kingdom in all its aspects operates according to His standard of righteousness and all who claim to be in it must conform to His righteousness. These men fulfilled their unique role in what is called the apostolic period. There are no apostles today and Peter has no successors, but the church continues to be built and the power, blessing and operation of the kingdom continues governed by the same truth that guided and was taught by the apostles. The New Testament is the record of the apostle’s doctrine and its truth is final authority for all true believers.
2. ‘He must go to Jerusalem' - Suffering, Death & Resurrection vs 21-23
Prophetic Revelation v 21
The Lord Jesus having revealed such glorious truth to the apostles now reveals something they found hard to grasp and understand – His rejection at Jerusalem. In this statement we learn at least four things the Lord Jesus was indicating as He anticipated the destiny and ultimate outcome of His ministry – His Cross and glorious resurrection. First, His knowledge of the future. Second, the necessity of His Cross. Third, the suffering He would experience and lastly, the certainty of His resurrection. He never shied from or shunned what He knew lay before Him, rather He followed completely His Father’s will even to the Cross (Phil 2:8). From an earthly perspective He was ‘killed’ by men, from heaven’s viewpoint, He died the ‘Lamb of God’ for the sin of the world (John 1:29). The outcome was never in doubt – He would rise again. Think about these words so powerfully penned by F. W. Pitt (1859-1943) that tell us of the all-knowing Christ:
The Maker of the Universe As Man for man was made a curse; The claims of laws which He had made, Unto the uttermost He paid.
His holy fingers made the bough, Which grew the thorns that crowned His brow, The nails that pierced His hands were mined, In secret places He designed.
He made the forest whence there sprung, The tree on which His body hung. He died upon a cross of wood, Yet made the hill on which it stood.
The sky that darkened o’er His head, By Him above the earth was spread, The sun that hid from Him its face, By His decree was poised in space.
The spear that spilled His precious blood, Was tempered in the fires of God. The grave in which His form was laid, Was hewn in rock His hands had made.
The throne on which He now appears, Was His from everlasting years, But a new glory crowns His brow, And every knee to Him shall bow.
Satanic Opposition vs 22-23
What happens next in this narrative certainly takes the reader by surprise. Peter, the man pronounced "blessed" and who was promised "the keys of the kingdom of heaven" is now strongly rebuked for his foolish arrogance. He thinks he knows better than the Lord and has the audacity to tell Him! Peter here was well meaning, but seriously mistaken. The Lord’s response to him: “Get behind Me, Satan! You are an offense to Me, for you are not mindful of the things of God, but the things of men” (v 23) demonstrates that with such a mindset Peter was actually on the side of Satan and a stumbling block to the Lord. It was Satan who had sought to tempt Jesus in the wilderness at the commencement of His public ministry (Matt 4:1-11). After forty days and nights in the barren Judean wilderness without food Satan came with all his malignant hatred and wicked pride to present three temptations intended to defeat the Lord Jesus by making Him disobey, test and abandon His Father. The Lord Jesus taught Satan that such was an impossibility. Now he was trying to use Peter to accomplish his evil intent. Finally, Satan marshalled all his forces to destroy the Lord Jesus by injustice, cruelty and murder. Not Peter, but false Judas became Satan’s willing dupe to betray Jesus as he energized the gross wickedness that led men to do what they did to Jesus at Jerusalem as the Lord describes here. Yet, the crucifixion which Satan ‘instigated’ was the very means by which he was crushed in defeat according to the promise of God recorded in Genesis 3:15:
“And I will put enmity Between you and the woman, And between your seed and her Seed; He shall bruise your head, And you shall bruise His heel.”
Peter proved at this point to be a contradiction. In pondering the often contradictory ways of men, I am reminded of the words of Blaise Pascal (1623-1662) concerning the nature of man:
‘What a Chimera is man! What a novelty, a monster, a chaos, a contradiction, a prodigy! Judge of all things, an imbecile worm; depository of truth, and sewer of error and doubt; the glory and refuse of the universe’.
3. “If anyone desires to come after Me” - Following & its Cost vs 24-27
True Followers v 24
That many followed the Lord Jesus from the beginning of His Galilean ministry is evident from reading the gospels. Matthew 4:25 says: ‘Great multitudes followed Him—from Galilee, and from Decapolis, Jerusalem, Judea, and beyond the Jordan.’ The crowds continued throughout His ministry, but for many they were no more than spectators enthralled with His miracles and listeners to His teaching yet never truly hearing what He taught. The Lord Jesus had only compassion for the multitudes for He saw them ‘as sheep having no shepherd’ – Matt 9:36, but when it came to following Him, He wanted faithful, not fickle followers. He made it clear that committing one’s life to Him carried a cost. It still does today. That cost is the denial of self and the bearing of reproach for His sake. These are no small things. The life of submission, holiness and faithfulness means not the abhorrence of self, but the abandonment of a self-indulgent lifestyle. The Lord warned Peter that “before the rooster crows, you will deny me three times” – Matt 26:34 and that is what he did – “I do not know the man!” was his response when faced with his association with Jesus – Matt 26:72, 75. To deny self is not to give up a few things in your life for the sake of Jesus at lent or any other time. No, it is not to ‘know’ self in the sense I don’t and won’t live for me, I live for Him even to the extent of giving up the right to life. The price is high and the cost great. It means taking up a cross. In that time people knew the meaning of a literal cross – condemnation and death. The Lord was not asking people to take literal cross, though that could happen, but He was saying be prepared for the condemnation and rejection of the world when you follow me. The sharp edge of this truth has been largely and for a long time mitigated in nations where Christianity has influenced and shaped a culture, but the times are changing. Many dear followers of the Lord though, have over the centuries known the full reality of His words.
The following moving story comes from a book called Why God Why? by an Indian evangelist Dr. P. P. Job. In the mid 1800’s Welsh missionaries brought the gospel to the primitive tribes of the Assam region in Northeast India. The gospel eventually penetrated and in one village a man along with his wife and two boys was converted with others following. Angry at this the village chief summoned the whole village together. The man who first trusted Christ was called upon to renounce his faith. He sang his reply – “I have decided to follow Jesus. No turning back”. Enraged the chief ordered the archers to kill his two boys. Called upon again to deny with the threat of his wife being killed he further sang in reply – “Though none go with me still I will follow. No turning back”. His dear wife was arrowed down. Again challenged to renounce his faith he sang – “The cross before me the world behind me. No turning back”. He was too shot through and died. This experience is the background to and these words the basis for the following popular and thought provoking hymn:
I have decided to follow Jesus; I have decided to follow Jesus; I have decided to follow Jesus; No turning back, no turning back.
Though none go with me, I still will follow; Though none go with me, I still will follow; Though none go with me, I still will follow; No turning back, no turning back.
The world behind me, the cross before me; The world behind me, the cross before me; The world behind me, the cross before me; No turning back, no turning back.
Two Ways v 25
The Lord speaks in terms of saving my life or losing my life. A choice has to be made between temporary gain and eternal loss and temporary loss and eternal gain. Elsewhere He taught similar truth under the figures of a broad and narrow way (Matt 7:13-14). Many travel on the former, few on the latter. The broad way leads to destruction the narrow way to life. One is easy the other difficult. We must make our choice. Do I go through the wide gate unto the broad way living for self and the world? Or do I abandon the broad way and go through the narrow gate for the narrow way following the Lord Jesus? No one will ever be forced to follow Jesus, but He wants us to know the truth of the two ways so that we will weigh the implications of the choice we make.
Ultimate Questions v 26
To press home the reality the Lord asks two ultimate questions: “For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?” The answers ought to be obvious. Even to gain the world with its power, fame and wealth only to end up eternally lost is no gain at all, it is rather an infinite and irrecoverable loss, nor will anyone ever be able to buy back their soul or life for when it is lost, it is lost forever.
Ask yourself this - am I willing to pay the price of following Him? Or am I willing to pay the price of not following Him?
Future Recompense v 27
How clear and unequivocal the Bible is and the Lord Jesus was regarding the greatest possible issues that affect mankind. He spoke of Himself as absolutely relevant to the world and human destiny. This demands we listen to Him and consider what He says. Whether I end up in heaven or hell is based on how I respond to Him. There only are these two options for eternity. Moreover, when He returns ‘in the glory of His Father with His angels’ to establish His kingdom He will bring to conclusion human history as we know it and He will render to every person according to their works. Mark 8:38 records the Lord’s words this way: “For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him the Son of Man also will be ashamed when He comes in the glory of His Father with the holy angels.” How we live matters. What side we are on matters. And how you respond to Jesus "the Christ, the Son of the living God" absolutely matters.