Matthew chapter 16

English Standard Version

New International Version

New American Standard Bible

Christian Standard Bible

New Living Translation

King James Version

New King James Version

What does Matthew chapter 16 mean?

Matthew 16 begins with another confrontation between Jesus and some of Israel's religious leaders. A group of Pharisees and Sadducees approach Jesus together. This is unusual, since the two sects don't agree on more than the most basic points of theology. Their demand to Jesus is for another sign from heaven (Matthew 12:13–14, 22). Jesus points out they can read basic signs in the skies to predict weather. However, they refuse to recognize obvious signs such as the many miracles He has already accomplished. He declares He will not give them any sign but that of Jonah (Jonah 1:17), who was swallowed by the great fish and restored on the third day (Matthew 16:1–4).

Jesus and the disciples get in a boat again to cross the Sea of Galilee, perhaps to gain space away from Jewish religious leaders. The disciples realize they have forgotten to bring bread for this trip. Jesus, apparently still thinking about His exchange with the Pharisees and Sadducees, warns the disciples to watch out for the "leaven" of those religious leaders. Leaven, or yeast, was often used as a metaphor for sin: something tiny which could thoroughly infiltrate and change whatever it entered. The disciples wonder if Jesus is upset because they forgot the bread (Matthew 16:5–7).

Instead, Jesus becomes upset about their small faith and focus on earthly bread. He reminds them that they were present—twice—when He fed thousands of people from just a few loaves (Matthew 14:13–21; 15:34–38). There's no reason they should be so worried about food as to miss such an obvious metaphor. He warns them again about the false teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees (Matthew 16:8–12).

Jesus and the disciples travel north about 25 miles from the Sea of Galilee to Caesarea Philippi. There, Jesus asks them who the people say He is. By this, He means the general opinion of the public. The disciples report that some people think He is the return of a great prophet, others that He is somehow John the Baptist. Making an important contrast between "popular opinion" and "personal belief," Jesus asks who the disciples say He is. Peter answers for the group: "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God" (Matthew 16:13–16).

This results in an enthusiastic response, with Jesus saying God the Father has revealed the truth to Peter. Jesus then makes a wordplay out of Peter's name, using two different Greek words. One, referring to Peter, means "a stone or a rock." The other, referring to the substance on which the church will be built, refers to "rock" as a substance or a material. On Peter's statement—the belief he expressed—Jesus says He will build His earthly church. The gates of hell won't prevail against it. Jesus tells Peter he will be given the keys of the kingdom of heaven. Whatever the disciples bind or loose on earth will be bound or loosed in heaven (Matthew 16:17–19).

Surprisingly, Jesus then tells this group of men not to tell others about His role as Messiah, just yet. Jesus is aware that the people are hungry for a victorious, earthly Messiah. They are likely to revolt against Rome, based on how they've responded to Jesus in the past (John 6:15). For that reason, widespread proclamation of His role needs to wait (Matthew 16:20).

Jesus, who has limited His travels and ministry mostly to the region of Galilee in northern Israel, begins to show the disciples that He must go to Jerusalem. This is literally the headquarters—the home territory—of the enemies who hate Him the most. He predicts He will suffer many things from those elders, chief priests, and scribes. Ultimately, He will even be killed. Of course, Jesus also mentions that He will be raised on the third day (Matthew 16:21).

Peter seems to have gained too much confidence from Jesus' recent praise. He does not merely disagree with Jesus, he rebukes Him. Peter is scolding the same Man he recently identified as Messiah, because Jesus is not meeting Peter's expectations. In what must have been a devastating reply to Peter, Jesus shockingly refers to Peter as Satan. Peter's mind is set on human things, including human preferences and human traditions, and not the things of God (Matthew 16:22–23).

Jesus repeats an earlier message to those gathered nearby. Anyone who would come after Him must take up their cross of self-denial and follow Him. Crucifixion, in that era, evoked concepts like humiliation, dishonor, shame, agony, misery, and death. Christ is not speaking about tolerating minor inconvenience; He's speaking of willingness to sacrifice everything associated with the world. Those who live for themselves—clinging to worldly things and earthly ideals—will lose their eternal lives. Those who lose their earthly lives will find true eternal life. Jesus frames this in a common-sense rhetorical question: what good would it be to gain all the temporary things of the world, only to suffer an eternity of loss? Judgment will come, for all people, and those who reject Christ will be lost (Matthew 16:24–27).

The final comment made by Jesus in this chapter is a reference to "some" of these disciples seeing Him coming into His kingdom before they die (Matthew 16:28). This is a reference to the transfiguration: the very next thing described by Matthew (Matthew 17:1–2). In that event, Peter, James, and John will witness a glorified scene which foreshadows Jesus' rule on earth.
What is the Gospel?
Download the app: