Today, we will fast track a bit through the Gospel of Matthew. Again, what we may not cover in this particular Gospel we will eventually get to later.
"When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, "Who do people say the Son if Man is?" They replied, 'Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.' 'But what about you?' he asked. 'Who do you say that I am?' (Matthew 16:15)
Well, Jesus sets the disciples up here. It is easy to say what it is "that others are saying." You have most likely heard the words, "People are saying," or, "They are saying." My question is always, "Who are they?" Well, here in our text Jesus wants to know what "they" are saying. I can hear them, "Well, I was speaking to a man named George the other day and he said that he thought that you were actually John the Baptist resurrected." Another one adds, "Well, let me tell you what a man named Frank said. He said that he is convinced that you are Elijah." Now, notice that Jesus does not get caught up in what the others are saying. He is not in the least bit bothered by the fact some are saying he is John, or Elijah, or...He seems to remain calm. Then he turns his focus on the disciples. "What about you all? Who do you all say that I am." Jesus sure has a way of making things personal. In the end, regardless of what others say about Jesus, or believe about him, what matters is, what we ourselves believe about him.
"Simon Peter answered, 'You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.' Jesus replied, "Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father in heaven. And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church." (Matthew 1616-18)
Well, here Peter gets the answer correct. Jesus then makes the promise to him that many believe signifies that Peter was the first pope. The response can be miss-interpreted to say that Peter is the rock on which the church will be built. I do not believe that this is what Jesus was saying. I believe that Jesus is responding to Peter's testimony that Jesus is the Christ. By the way there are only two places in all the four gospels where the word church is mentioned; here in this verse and in Matthew 18:17. Yes, the Gospel of Matthew is the only Gospel where the word "church" is mentioned.
It doesn't take long for Peter to open his mouth one too many times. Jesus begins to predict his suffering and his death. Then "Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. 'Never, Lord!' he said. 'This shall never happen to you!' Jesus turned and said to Peter, 'Get behind me Satan!'" (Matthew 16:22-23a) Wow, just a few verses ago Jesus said that the gates of hell would not prevail against the church (after Peter's confession) and now Jesus calls Peter Satan. What's happening here? Well, while Peter may have gotten Jesus being the Christ/messiah correct, he failed to understand the messiah's mission. This will be a theme throughout each gospel. How well did each disciple of Jesus really know Jesus? What was their understanding of the messiah's role? Peter did not think that the Christ would be killed. They believed and they hoped what? Jesus was the one who had come to end Roman oppression and to set up his kingdom on earth. Well, they got part of it correct. Jesus did come to establish his kingdom on earth, but not in the way they thought. He offered the kingdom of God, but they failed to understand what that meant. They also failed to understand the role of the messiah and how he would establish his kingdom. The idea of God's son, or the messiah dying was preposterous. (This will play out even more in the Gospel of Mark)
After Jesus predicted his death he then "took with him Peter, James, and John...and led them up a high mountain by themselves. There he was transfigured before them." (Matthew 17:1-2) Peter, James, and John appear to be Jesus' inner circle. They often go away with Jesus while the others remain behind. I often compare them to the Memphis Mafia. Who were the Memphis Mafia? Well, they were Elvis Presley's bodyguards. He has several, but there were only a handful that were close to him.
The transfiguration of Jesus happens before their eyes. Along with Jesus, Moses and Elijah appear on the mountain. They are simply having a conversation. What are they talking about? We do not know. Speculation is that Moses and Elijah have come to encourage Jesus, because from this moment he will edge closer and closer to the cross. Another way of looking at this is that in this scene the Law (Represented by Moses) and the Prophets (Elijah) meet the savior and give their endorsement.
"Peter said to Jesus, 'Lord, it is good for us to be here. If you wish, I will put up three shelters-one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah." (Matthew 17:4) This is clear indication that Peter still has not comprehended the role of the messiah. He is basically suggesting that Jesus stay on the mountain. If you recall, in the Old Testament book of Exodus God's residence was the top of the mountain. So, it would make since to the disciples that Jesus would be right at home. But...
"While he was still speaking, a bright cloud enveloped them, and a voice from the cloud said, 'This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!" (Matthew 17:5) I
I love how this passage begins. Peter is still talking. It seems that Peter is the spokesperson of the group as he is always the one talking. He is still speaking when God cuts him off. Notice what God says. If you recall when Jesus was baptized there was a voice from heaven declaring "This is my son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased." (Matthew 3:17b) Now, God reiterates what he said at the baptism of Jesus. At Jesus' baptism God made the declaration for the entire world (open statement to those present at least), here God makes the claim for the benefit of the disciples. God has called Jesus to a task and Jesus will continue this calling. Jesus understands what it means to be the messiah, and has accepted that. The disciples, however, have not. As they were leaving the mountain Jesus said to them: "the Son of Man is going to suffer at their hands. Then the disciples understood that he was talking to them about John the Baptist." (Matthew 17:12b-13)
Well, it is a rocky road for the disciples. They struggle in their understanding as to the identity of the messiah. They still believe that Jesus will set up an earthly kingdom. This is further evidenced by them asking Jesus: "Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?" (Matthew 18:1) In another gospel two of them argue over which will be at Jesus' right and which will be on his left. Well, our journey will continue tomorrow as we continue our look at the Triumphal entry into Jerusalem.