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Edward F. Markquart

Series A
Gospel Anaylysis, The Keys of the Kingdom

PENTECOST  14A     Matthew 16:13-20 

Pastor Edward F. Markquart
Grace Lutheran Church
Des Moines, Washington 98198

The following Bible study is from a larger course entitled, THE LIFE OF CHRIST: A Study in the Four Gospels. This 54 week course for the laity will be available for congregations in 2006.

Basic text for the course: SYNOPSIS OF THE FOUR GOSPELS, Kurt Aland, English Edition, P. 149-150. 

#158. PETER’S CONFESSION    Matthew 16:13-20; Mark 8:27-30; Luke 9:18-21; John 6:67-71

This passage is a highlight, a mountaintop, an epic event in all four gospels. That is, in all four gospels we hear Peter’s confession that Jesus is the “Christ,” “the Christ of God,” “the Son of the Living God,” and “the Holy One of God.” The gospels have been building towards this climax, towards this crescendo. Up to this point, the disciples have misunderstood the true identify of Jesus, but in this climatic moment, at least one of the disciples will begin to understand Jesus’ true identity. .

-Now it happened. Only Luke. In Luke’s gospel, this confession of Peter occurs immediately after the feeding of the 5000.

-That as he was praying alone. Only Luke. We also recall that in Luke’s gospel, Jesus was praying alone at the time of his baptism, his transfiguration and in the garden of Gethsemane. Several times in his gospel, Luke uniquely remembers Jesus was at prayer. Luke is often called the gospel of prayer. Jesus was also praying alone. We too find strength when we pray alone and have our “alone time” with God.

-Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, Caesarea Philippi lies about twenty-five miles north of the Sea of Galilee. The city was named after Caesar Augustus and his son Philippi. We do not know precisely why this event of Peter’s confession happened outside of Judea.

See the map below. Also notice and remember the location of Mount Hermon which scholars think to be the location of the Transfiguration.

-He asked his disciples, "Who do people say that the Son of Man is?" In Matthew, we notice that the phrase, “Son of man” is substituted for the word, “I.” Mark uses the pronoun, “I” and Matthew inserts the phrase, “Son of man.” This verse is a clear indication that the pronoun, “I”, and the phrase, “Son of man,” could be used interchangeably. Jesus was asking his disciples what the large crowds of people were saying about him.

-And they said, "Some say John the Baptist, We know that Herod had recently beheaded John the Baptist. Many people thought that Jesus was John the Baptist who had come back to life. We recall that Origin, one of the great early church fathers, said that Jesus and John the Baptist were cousins and therefore, perhaps looked alike. Herod, who actually ordered the beheading of John the Baptist, was confused by Jesus’ appearance and wondered if Jesus was John the Baptist raised from the dead. (Mark 6:16, page 133)  

-But others Elijah, Malachi 4:5, “I will send you Elijah, the prophet, before the great and terrible day of the Lord comes.” For centuries, the Jews believed that Elijah was to appear before coming of the Messianic age, and John the Baptist was none other than Elijah.  

-And still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets." Matthew inserts the name, “Jeremiah.” 2 Maccabees 2:1-12 and 2 Esdras 2:18 prophecied that Jeremiah would return before the day of the Messiah. Both Jeremiah and Elijah were thought to be “forerunners” of the Messiah.

-He said to them, "But YOU, who do you say that I am?" Jesus had heard the conclusions of the crowd and now he wanted to know what the disciples personally thought. Arthur Just, in his commentary on Luke, says, “Note the emphatic, ‘but you,’ at the beginning of the sentence. The, “But you!” accents Jesus’ desire to get the disciples perspective.” (LUKE, Concordia Commentary, Just, V. 1, p. 390). Another scholar translates this sentence, “And you, who do you say that I am?”

In this passage, we hear Jesus asking a personal question of us? “YOU there. Who do YOU say that I am?” Jesus asks each one of us, “What is your personal opinion of me and my identity? I am not interested in what your church says or what your pastor says and what your friends say. I am interested in what you think and say about me. What are you personal conclusions about me?”

-Simon Peter answered, Consistently, we discover that Peter is the leader of the disciples. His name is at the top of the list of the twelve disciples.  Peter is the first to speak, the one to take the initiative, the one who doubts and sinks in a storm, the one who is the rock of faith, the one who is given the keys of the kingdom, the one who sticks his foot in his mouth on the mount of Transfiguration. There are 93 references to Peter’s name in the first gospels. His name is at the heart of the gospel stories.

-You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed (only Gospel of John).  Peter confesses that Jesus has the words of eternal life. Peter says, “we” have believed. In other words, Peter was speaking for the other disciples and the disciples had finally come to believe in his words. God wants the same reaction from us. That is, God wants us to come to believe that Christ is the Bread of life and has the words of eternal life for us.

-"You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God." “You are the Christ,” “the Christ of God,” “the Son of the living God,” and “the Holy One of God.” Highlight these titles in the four parallel columns. These words are one of the climaxes of the gospels, one of the high points, one of the mountaintops. Peter, for a moment, finally gets it right. He understands the truth about Jesus, that Jesus was/is more than a prophet, more than a great moral leader, more than a loving example for us to follow. Jesus is not only the longed for Messiah; but he is the Son of the living God, the Mind and Heart of God, the one who had been sent from God and would return to God. We also remember that the Apostle Paul said, “No one can say ‘Jesus is Lord’ except by the Holy Spirit.” (I Corinthians. 12:3.) In other words, the Spirit finally got through to Simon Peter and Peter for the first time momentarily understood the truth about Jesus.

-And Jesus answered him, Then, from the Gospel of Matthew, we hear a unique memory about Simon Peter.

-"Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, The human mind, human reason, human wisdom cannot come to the conclusion about Jesus’ true identity that Jesus is the Son of God.

We make a distinction between reason and revelation, between flesh and Spirit. Reason (flesh/blood) cannot come to an accurate conclusion about Jesus’ true identity; only revelation through God’s Spirit can. It is not human reason that leads to the conclusion that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, but it is God’s revelation due to the work of the Spirit that leads a person finally to believe in Christ as my Lord, the Son of God for all eternity. 

-But my Father in heaven. Circle the word, “my,” and remember that this was the deepest scandal for the Jewish Pharisees, that Jesus had the audacity to call God, “his” Father. God, our heavenly Father, is the one who reveals the true identity of Jesus to us and we do not come to that conclusion because of reason.

-And I tell you, you are Peter, Jesus called Peter by his Aramaic name, Simon Bar-Jona, the son of Jonah.

-You are Rock (Peter) Peter receives a new name from Jesus. Receiving a new name indicates that Peter has been given a new identity. In both the Greek and Aramaic language, there is a play on words. “You are Petros (Peter) and on this Petra (rock).”

-And on this rock For centuries, Christians have debated the meaning of the phrase,  “on this rock.” Roman Catholics have taken the traditional Catholic interpretation. That is, “on this rock” refers to Peter. The structure of the language and the play on words (“You are Petros and on this Petra I will build my church.”) indicates that it is Petros/Petra himself on which the church is to be built. The church is to be built on the back, shoulders and confession of Peter. In the Roman Catholic Church, we hear about the primacy of Peter, who was the first bishop of Rome.

On the other hand, the Protestants have taken the traditional Protestant interpretation. That is, “on this rock” refers to Peter’s confession, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” That confession is the rock on which the church is to be built. The emphasis is not on Peter but on Christ, the Son of the Living God. Christ is the rock and foundation on which the church is to be built. We recall the old solid hymn with its heavy ponderous tune, “Built on the Rock the Church shall stand, even when steeples are falling. Crumbled have spires in every land, bells still are chiming and calling.” Christ is the Rock on which the Church shall stand.

It seems that both the traditional Roman Catholic and Protestant positions have a validity to them. Peter was the first human being to confess the truth about Christ, the Son of the living God. His confession is the rock/foundation on which Christ will build his church.

-I will build my church, This is the first reference to the “church” in the four gospels.  (The second reference we will encounter shortly in Matthew 18:17, on page 162, #170.) The church is the “ekklesia” or the assembly, or synagogue, or gathering. Circle the word, “my,” and we remember that the church belongs to Christ. The church does not belong to its members, its pastors, its power groups. The church always belongs to Christ. We also remember that Jesus was going to build his church, and that building process has been going on for centuries. Jesus was/is forever building this community of believers that belongs to him. Christ is forever building our local congregation, Grace Lutheran Church as well.

For many Biblical scholars, this passage is from the time and traditions of the Apostle Paul when the word, “church,” was used. The word, “church,” was not used elsewhere in Jesus’ vocabulary and in all probability, was not used by Jesus in his lifetime. Such scholars conclude that Jesus himself did not use the word, “church.”

-And the gates of Hades will not prevail against it. This is a bold and victorious statement. We are told that the powers of death and damnation are not as strong as the powers of God nor will those evil powers win the battle. The powers of death and evil are all around us, but these evil powers are not stronger than the church and its power of God within. Evil will lose out!!!

From earlier lessons, we recall the Gospel of Matthew’s emphasis on the eternal punishment of hell/Hades more than the other gospel writers.

-I will give you The, “you,” seems to refer to Peter and not the church. Catholics emphasize that Peter has been given the power of the keys. Protestants emphasize that the church has been given the power of the keys. Peter or the church is to be the steward or caretaker of the keys.

-The keys of the kingdom of heaven, What are the keys of the kingdom? The answer to that question has caused endless debate and interpretation. The word, “keys,” is a plural word and there are many keys of the kingdom.

We momentarily focus on the word, “kingdom,” and not the word, “keys.” We remember the kingdom of God was/is Jesus’ primary teaching. We have listened to parables of the kingdom and teachings of the kingdom. We have also head about the miracles of the kingdom. The kingdom is wherever Christ rules in a person, a home, and a nation. The kingdom is wherever and whenever the love of Christ rules in a person’s life. The keys of the kingdom unlock the doors to this kingdom.

Further, it may be that the keys are not doors or entrances to the kingdom so much as the key ideas about the kingdom. Such key ideas about the kingdom are the importance of having great faith to be part of the kingdom, that faith grows like a mustard seed in the kingdom, and the kingdom is one’s most valuable possession, etc. The word, “keys,” is a metaphor for ideas about the kingdom.

Traditionally, the phrase, the “office of the keys, ” is interpreted to be the church’s authority to “declare the forgiveness of sins” after confession of sin during the worship service. Additionally, the phrase, “to loose and to bind” was a common Jewish phrase in Jesus’ day. The rabbis of the day had that power to “loose and bind.”  To “loose and to bind” was to allow and forbid, to declare something allowed and to declare something forbidden. Throughout the centuries, this has been one of the roles of the church: to declare what teachings and practices are allowed; and to declare what teachings and practices are forbidden…. We will again see these phrases (bound and loosed in heaven and on earth) on page 162, Matthew 18:18.

We also recall the words of Jesus in John 20:23 when Jesus appeared to the disciples after the resurrection. Jesus said to his disciples, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven. If you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” (page 331)

It seems that the power of the keys is the power of the Church to declare the forgiveness of sins on behalf of God and withhold the forgiveness of sins on behalf of God.

-And whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven." A question was asked from a member of a class: “What is the rationale for concluding that Matthew 19:16 (‘whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven’) is a declaration of God’s forgiveness or God’s damnation?” Answer. To repeat, this phrase is an Aramaic colloquialism. In our daily lives, we all use contemporary colloquialisms, and we grasp the meaning of those colloquialisms such as “go jump in the lake” or “drop dead” or “get lost” or “go fly a kite.” We know that we are not to take these words literally or we would all get wet as we jumped in a lake or we would all die on the spot as we dropped dead or we would go get lost or we would go buy kites and fly them. We intuitively know that these phrases are slag expressions, contemporary colloquialisms, that are not to be taken literally. Similarly, the phrase, “to bind and loose on earth and heaven” was an Aramaic colloquial phrase. To “loose on earth” meant to declare a person to be released, loosed or absolved. “To bind on earth” meant to declare that a person to be bound to the consequences of his or her sins. John 20:23 states the same thoughts but not in Aramaic hyperbole: “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven. If you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” That is, the church has been given the authority by Christ to declare God’s forgiveness and punishment.

The Lutheran Book of Worship expresses these sentiments in the following words which are part of the confession: “As a called and ordained minister of the Church of Christ and by his authority, I therefore declare to you the entire forgiveness of all your sins. In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.” This is the office of the keys that has been given to the Church: to declare forgive of sins.

-Then he sternly ordered the disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Messiah.

This is part of the Messianic secret. Consistently, Jesus was telling is disciples not to reveal his identity. Why? We are not fully sure. It may be that the common crowd would have believed in Christ the Messiah for the wrong reasons so that they would have a bread king, a healing king, and a political king to throw off the political oppression of the Romans.

As we complete our study of this section of Scripture, we remember that Peter finally got it right … for a moment. Peter rightly confessed:  “Jesus Christ is the Son of the living God, the Messiah, the Holy One of God.”

DISCUSSION QUESTION:  WHO DO YOU PERSONALLY SAY THAT JESUS IS? AND WHY? (Write down your response to turn it into the pastor. These responds will be collated and made available in the next class.)

Each person will answer this question differently and will find phrases that resonate to them in their personal lives. The following responses were from one class:

“Jesus is my Intercessor just as my mother in childhood was the intercessor between me and my father.”

“Jesus is my Savior because he has saved me by his death on the cross. He has saved me from my sins.”

“Jesus is the personification of God for me because God is too big for my mind to handle.”

 “Jesus is my friend who knows everything about me and still loves me.”

“I like the public confirmation service where each student stands up before the whole congregation and says, ‘I believe in Jesus Christ as my Lord.’ That is who Jesus is to me: My Lord.”

Notice that each person had a different set of words that described who Jesus was personally for him/her. Notice that several people used the word, “my,” such as my intercessor, my savior, my friend, my Lord. The relationship with Christ was personal.

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