MATTHEW 16:21-23
Pp Mark 8:31-33, Luke 9:22

The Event
Comparison of the Passion Predictions

Little needs to be said about a comparison of the three parallel passages for they run very closely together to provide the reader with one unit. Only Luke stops short of recording the incident in which Peter responded to Jesus’ statements concerning His death but, at the same time, is the only writer who records Jesus’ words as a direct quote, the other two authors making it appear as if what they record was a summation of His content.

The point is, however, that it was from this time forward (Mtw 16:21, Mark 8:31) that Jesus began to declare to the disciples what was shortly to befall Him in Jerusalem at the hands of the religious leaders and it would appear that we’re looking at more than simply a one liner which went unexpounded until the next declaration of events to the disciples (as opposed to Peter, James and John in Mtw 17:9,12) which could have taken place several weeks afterwards (Mtw 17:22-23).

Mark is careful to note that what he records Jesus as saying was no parable, cloaked in language that needed to be understood in spiritual terms for the truth to be made known. He records that Jesus spoke of His own suffering ‘plainly’ and it seems obvious also that the disciples understood it this way judging from Peter’s response.

Finally, it’s only Mark who records that, when Jesus turned to address Peter directly, He notices the disciples - indeed, that the reason for His rebuking of the disciple appears to be because they’re present and able to hear the words which must have, to some degree, have been equally applicable to them. It certainly doesn’t appear to be the case that Jesus rebuked Peter in front of the disciples because He wanted to humiliate him but, rather, because, as was usual, Peter speaks out what is also on the other disciples’ hearts.

This rebuke wasn’t just for Peter but for the other eleven so that they would all realise that such talk was not in accordance with the purposes of the Father and of Jesus’ earthly mission.

We should note that the phrase

‘From that time...’

which begins this section is also used in Mtw 4:17 where it marks the beginning of Jesus’ ministry to Israel. This phrase only occurs in Matthew’s Gospel in the NT and it’s not insignificant that, whereas the first use of it by the author is the header which commences ministry, here the header begins the narrative which begins to describe His Passion.

In this way, we might divide the Gospel up into three sections which run 1:1-4:16 (speaking of the preliminary stages before the ministry to Israel) 4:17-16:20 (speaking of the main content of His ministry outside Jerusalem) and 16:21-28:20 (which is hastening towards a conclusion in Jesus’ death and resurrection in Jerusalem). Each of the three opening verses of these passages (only two specifically note it as a beginning of something, however), therefore, represents a beginning which continues until the next one commences.

The Event

We tend to forget that what Jesus now declares to the disciples must have come as quite a shock to them seeing as the day’s concept of who the Messiah would be and what He’d do was so far removed from what Jesus now declares the will of God to be as to be flatly rejected as being a work of the enemy.

This is the first open declaration by Jesus that there was coming a time when He would suffer at the hands of the religious leaders (Jesus is quoted as referring to ‘the elders and chief priests and scribes’ where Matfran comments that these were the three groups which made up the Sanhedrin, the Jewish Law Court - I will deal with the set up of this court when we reach Matthew chapter 23 but I can’t link to it at this point as I’m not able to determine the page reference. What Jesus appears to be saying, however, is that all the Jewish religious leaders will come together to condemn Him, not just those who came from these groups and who formed part of the official ‘Greater’ Sanhedrin in Jerusalem. Although a condemnation by the Sanhedrin is necessary through Jesus’ words, it must also go beyond this to include the vast majority of Jewish leaders), be killed and, after three days, be raised from the dead. Previously, Jesus has spoken of the sign of the prophet Jonah (Mtw 12:40) which, although not predicting suffering, should have been understood as a prediction that Jesus was to die and rise from the grave. We considered this passage on another page and we noted that it was difficult to understand how else the phrase ‘heart of the earth’ could have been interpreted other than a specific prediction of death.

Although the statement may have puzzled the disciples who were standing close to Jesus’ proclamation, it was, after all, not inconceivable that the Messiah would ultimately die at some point in time. Therefore, Peter’s shock upon hearing Jesus’ new declaration (Mtw 16:31) is based not so much on the third day resurrection but upon the opposition to and persecution of the One who he’d just proclaimed to be God’s chosen and anointed King (Mtw 16:16).

And, even before this, Jesus had predicted His going away from the disciples to the disciples of John the Baptist who’d come to Him with a question about fasting (Mtw 9:15) but, from this, one could hardly have inferred the violence with which Jesus was predicting His going away - or, even, that it would be associated with His rejection at the hands of the religious leaders.

But, from here on to the cross, declarations of the suffering, rejection, death and resurrection from the grave are spoken more or less openly. After this occurrence, Matthew next records a statement of His death in Mtw 17:9,12 where the parallel of Mark 9:9-10 notes that the three disciples questioned as to what the ‘rising from the dead’ might actually mean, their understanding being somewhat cloudy even at this point - perhaps they were too frightened to ask Jesus what He meant! - but they certainly don’t appear to have fully understood the previous declaration of Jesus as recorded here which appears to have been plain enough (Mtw 16:21).

Again, as they were gathering in Galilee, Jesus repeats what will shortly befall Him (Mtw 17:22-23 - with different snippets of information) before, again, repeating what will happen in Mtw 20:17-19 (shortly before their final journey into Jerusalem), 21:38-39 (a veiled reference which was spoken to the crowds) and 26:2,12,26-28,31 (the latter two of these four possibly veiled enough for the disciples not to have immediately understood the application though, by this time, they had probably grown used to Jesus speaking about His own suffering and death).

Although there were numerous differing concepts of what Messiah would do amongst the nation of Israel at that time, one of the most common was that He’d be a great deliverer from the oppression of the Roman occupation forces who dominated the area and forbade Israel to be little more than people who had to snap every time their fingers were clicked.

The longing for a deliverance from this set up cannot be overemphasised if we are to understand Peter’s horror at hearing Jesus’ words. We look back at what’s transpired and note almost unemotionally that Jesus dying on the cross was necessary, that the Father had planned it this way for the good of the entire world and we also take delight in pointing out the allusions to the cross and resurrection in all the passages which precede this one, thinking that His statement here was a logical conclusion to a series of announcements, thus making Peter out to be some sort of numskull because he can’t conceive of the Messiah as having to be rejected by the religious leaders to the point of execution.

To be fair, no one could have understood what was shortly to take place - not even the disciples, nor perhaps, ourselves if we stood in the same situation - and Jesus’ declaration must be understood in this context and with this background in view.

Peter is seen to be, therefore, not a man who doesn’t perceive that Jesus is the Messiah (Mtw 16:16) but a man who doesn’t perceive what the role of the Messiah is to be - as, to be honest, no one at all, probably, could have understood it to be before the events of the death and resurrection.

We should at least note here that Peter is recorded as taking Jesus probably to one side as he remonstrates with Him that what He’s just confessed is so far from what the disciples have in mind for Him as to be unthinkable. We should, perhaps, see in the description either an attitude of gentleness in Peter who won’t willingly disagree with the Leader in front of others or who’s too worried that the others won’t support him!

When all’s considered, it seems best to see Peter as trying to have a private word with Jesus to bring to His attention that such a course of action should be far from His mind for it’s certainly far from his.

One could almost see Peter making directly for Jesus and trying to take Him by the arm and pull Him to one side to speak to Him in quiet tones. This is quite possible but it tends to add too much to the narrative. Matmor’s observation that the terminology indicates ‘...a friendly attitude...’ is the most that can be said at this point.

Peter’s actual words (Mtw 16:22) are probably translated either

‘May God help You, Lord’

or, to add an interpretation

‘May God be merciful to You, Lord’

and may represent an idiomatic Rabbinic expression used in the first century. The actual meaning of the words, however, is along the lines of the RSV’s translation and are best taken as something like

‘May God forbid this thing to happen’


‘May God avert it’

Peter stops short of saying either that it won’t happen or that it’s not possible for it to happen. All he is concerned to say is that God surely can’t let this thing happen to the One who He’s come to regard as being the Messiah, God’s anointed King, for the reasons I’ve stated above.

Jesus’ reaction has been used in numerous Church situations I’ve been in through my experience and one that is probably used a fair few times when it should be consigned to the darkened corridors of silence! We should note that the label of ‘satan’ is only put on a believer but once in the NT and then it’s by Jesus Himself on a disciple other than Judas who betrayed Him. However, it isn’t Judas who is attempting to stop Jesus from experiencing the cross - he’s the one who’s actually instrumental in bringing it about!

I wrote above that Mark 8:33 shows us that Jesus was fully aware that the other disciples were overhearing what He was saying and I reasoned that the words with which Peter remonstrated with Jesus were probably the same sort of thoughts which were going through their minds.

Therefore, the rebuke, although directed at Peter, is equally applicable to the entire band of disciples present. His pronouncement that Peter is satan is quite some reaction, however, and we should note the force of the words well. Jesus isn’t even thinking that the disciple has His own interests at heart and that He’ll leave him to work the matter out for himself.

Rather, he equates Peter with the enemy - and this the disciple who has just been told that the Church would be built on him - with an identification which is no mere allusion.

But, if we equate this passage with that which occurred in the wilderness in Mtw 4:8-10, we can see that the same temptation which satan directly offered to Jesus there - that He could obtain authority over the Kingdoms of the world without the path which led to the cross - is the one which Peter suggests ‘as a friend’. The temptation is so similar, then, as to be one and the same even if it’s with different words and from a different motive.

The disciple who has just confessed a revelation from God (Mtw 16:17) is now the same one who, only a few moments later (it would appear), mouths a confession which comes directly from the mind of satan! We shouldn’t think that this means that Peter has received some sort of satanic revelation, only that Peter is expressing a concept which is in harmony with what satan would have wanted in the situation - after all, we can’t be absolutely sure that satan knew that Jesus had to die and it’s quite possible that all satan was attempting to do in the wilderness was to stumble a perfect man to make Him become less than God intended.

If such a demonstrably similar event could be shown in a church attender, a leader would naturally forget about what the person has just demonstrated as being in touch with Heaven and would probably consign him into a pigeon hole reserved for instruments of the devil, despatching to darkness whatever positive attribute had just been seen!

We should be wary, therefore, and realise that the greatest of revelations can be accompanied by the most grotesque but that it doesn’t negate the position before God of the believer.

When Jesus is translated as telling Peter that he’s a ‘hindrance’ to Him (Mtw 16:23), the RSV is playing down the strength of the Greek word which is employed here (Strongs Greek number 4625). Originally, this word was the name given to the bait-stick of a trap which sprung the snare but, with time, came to be used of the snare itself.

In the NT, however, the word was also used of a stumbling block, something which trips someone up from walking the correct way (Rev 2:14) or something which stands up to confront men and women when their lives are set opposed to God Himself (Gal 5:11). Jesus is One who is also said to have become a stumbling stone to the Jews in Nazareth where the RSV translates the word ‘offence’ (Mtw 13:57).

A stumbling block needn’t be inherently negative, therefore, and has a positive side to it depending on the context. In the situation here, both the rarer meaning of ‘bait-stick’ and ‘stumbling stone’ are equally relevant and both could be used as translations which would give the passage good sense. Perhaps the former is the best translation, however, and Peter himself (not just the words which he’s spoken), becomes the bait-stick which tempts Jesus to choose a different way than to accept the will of the Father through the cross and resurrection to achieve the throne.

Therefore, the disciple who a few moments before is the rock upon which the Church can be built, becomes the rock over which Jesus might stumble - from founding disciple to stumbling brother, from one who is an encouragement that all the ministry has not been in vain to one who would destroy the main reason why He came.

That we shouldn’t think of Peter as having received some satanic revelation which he has just that moment confessed, is further strengthened by Jesus’ last words here where he speaks of Peter as being

‘...not on the side of God but of men’

where we would logically understand Jesus’ intentions to have changed the last phrase to ‘of satan’ if that was what was intended. It’s solely because Peter’s own thoughts, if outworked, would negate the will of the Father for Him that it can be said that they’re from satan himself. They’re actually the thoughts and reasonings of the Jewish men and women who found it impossible to conceive of the Messiah as needing to suffer and die when their expectations were rooted in a conquering King who would re-establish the Davidic throne and throw off the Roman occupying armies which were in their land.

Matfran points out that the Greek verb translated as ‘on the side of’ simply means ‘think’ (Strongs Greek number 5426) and it would be better had the translation followed this simpler meaning, putting the problem with Peter directly into the area of his own considerations and contemplations rather than to allow any possibility of the disciple being associated with a satanic revelation.

Where Peter had shunned natural logic to perceive Jesus as ‘the Christ, the Son of the Living God’ (Mtw 16:17), he now moves back into that methodology to interpret the revelation (Mtw 16:23). The problem, therefore, is not satanic in origin but satanic in conclusion, which is why Jesus identifies it as such but, fundamentally, the problem is that Peter has moved from operating by revelation to thinking by the flesh.

Comparison of the Passion Predictions

This appears to be a good point at which to take a brief look at the predictions which Jesus gave concerning His death and resurrection. Although an open declaration of the details concerning His death were saved for a time immediately preceding His death - probably in the last year before that final Passover - Jesus appears to have been aware from an early time that such an event was going to take place, but also perceived that the time for the full declaration of what was about to transpire should be reserved for a later time when it was imminent.

There are certain things which we might infer from passages which say little or nothing about the crucifixion but they won’t be dealt with here. For instance, Mtw 4:8-10 may be used to show that Jesus must have been aware of the cross because satan attempts to cause Him to gain authority and supremacy without having to taste the suffering of the cross. Though this may be the correct interpretation, it’s equally possible that satan was more interested to have Jesus become like both him and his ways (see my notes here) and that the cross may not be in mind. What we read in to a passage may not be what’s actually there.

The first possible hint that Jesus might soon die is Mtw 9:15 where, talking about the need for fasting, Jesus speaks of Himself as being taken from the disciples. Again, although this doesn’t plainly speak about the sufferings of the cross, it does show us that it was certainly present in Jesus’ mind, unless we think that He’s referring to some journey or other which goes unrecorded in which Jesus decides to spend numerous months on His own, away from the disciples.

Mtw 12:40 is the answer Jesus gives to the scribes and Pharisees in answer to their request for a sign and which should have been understood as an indication that Jesus was to die, when He speaks of being three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. The events surrounding His death aren’t mentioned here, however, but the sign becomes one which the leaders will actually bring about and which will seal their rejection of Him to the point of being unable to turn round and embrace the new Kingdom which He brings.

It’s left to our current passage, however, for an open declaration of the rejection and suffering surrounding His death, Matthew’s statement that Jesus now began to relate these events being the starting point from which the frequency of information becomes greater and more detailed in the subsequent chapters. Mtw 16:21 may be taken to be a summation of the information passed on to the disciples but Luke 9:22 is a direct quote in which we read of Jesus telling His followers that

‘The Son of man must suffer many things, and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised’

the only main difference with Matthew’s Gospel being the insertion of the word ‘rejected’ before the list of the religious leaders. Certainly, Peter must have understood something of what this statement meant because of his rebuke that such a circumstance should never happen to the Lord’s anointed (Mtw 16:22). This first open declaration speaks of the repudiation of Jesus by, possibly, the Jewish Sanhedrin, though the total of Jewish leadership is what it seems to imply, a formal decision by the courts being a distinct possibility. Matthew makes it plain that suffering was understood to have come about from the religious leadership but who they understood was responsible for the killing is difficult to be certain about along with the meaning of being raised on the third day (as will be seen below).

Peter, James and John receive a private revelation of the suffering of Christ in two places as they travel down from the mountain on which the transfiguration has just taken place. Firstly, Jesus mentions His resurrection almost as an aside in Mtw 17:9, telling them that they’re not to mention the vision until He’s raised from the dead, Mark 9:10 noting that they were obedient to the instruction but that they were

‘...questioning what the rising from the dead meant’

a sure indication that, when they heard Jesus speak about the suffering previously, they either stopped short of hearing the raising from the dead or they failed to understand it. Immediately after in Mtw 17:12, Jesus speaks again of Him suffering at the hands of the people who did to John the Baptist whatever they pleased. The parallel in Mark 9:12 speaks of Him being treated with contempt but the association with the people who killed John as being the same who will persecute Jesus is lacking. If Jesus’ words are taken at face value in Matthew, however, the disciples’ minds would seem to be drawn to think of the Roman authorities rather than the Jewish religious leaders even though I did note that it was possible that the Rabbis may have been implicated in the arrest of the Baptist and certainly that the Roman authorities may have been who could have needed to turn a blind eye to Herod Antipas’ soldiers who came into Judaean territory to arrest him.

Upon returning into Galilee, Jesus again speaks to them and instructs them that

‘The Son of man is to be delivered into the hands of men, and they will kill Him, and He will be raised on the third day’

the only addition being that Jesus now speaks of being delivered into men’s hands rather than speaking of the religious leaders. Although the latter’s hand in the plot was primary to the entire procedure, the crowds also rejected Him (Mtw 27:22-23) as did Herod Antipas (Luke 23:7-11) and Pilate (Mtw 27:24), the symbol of the Roman governing authorities. Luke’s parallel passage, however, is important to understand in the context of all the statements by Jesus concerning what was to happen in Jerusalem. Luke 9:44 only records that Jesus informed them about being delivered into the hands of men but the author goes on to state (Luke 9:45 - my italics) that

‘...they did not understand this saying, and it was concealed from them, that they should not perceive it; and they were afraid to ask Him about this saying’

where the implication appears to be that, although they fully understood what was said, they didn’t comprehend it. This appears, however, only to apply to deliverance into the hands of men for Luke omits the other phrases and Peter seems to have already understood that Jesus had spoken about His death (Mtw 16:22).

By far the greatest detail of what was about to happen occurs in Mtw 20:17-19 where we read of Jesus saying that

‘Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem; and the Son of man will be delivered to the chief priests and scribes, and they will condemn Him to death, and deliver Him to the Gentiles to be mocked and scourged and crucified, and He will be raised on the third day’

Both Mark and Luke add other details as to the treatment but it’s only Matthew who mentions for the first time the method of execution - that is, crucifixion. Luke again notes (Luke 18:34) that

‘...they understood none of these things; this saying was hid from them, and they did not grasp what was said’

and this time it must refer to the entire speech. Even though they heard the words being spoken, it appears that their minds could not comprehend what exactly it was that was to take place - even though they had done previously in Caesarea Philippi (Mtw 16:21-22). Perhaps it’s better to see in both of Luke’s statements the meaning that the disciples didn’t perceive why these things should happen at all even though they clearly heard the words that were declaring their Master’s death.

Lukmor should be followed here when he puts words into the disciples’ minds as interpreting the phrase as

‘He cannot mean that He will literally die and rise. This must be something like the dying in order to live that He demands of us’

where, through a wrong understanding of what Jesus must be dealing with, the words are unable to be applied to the correct situation. This has happened previously in Mtw 16:5-12 where the disciples’ minds were thinking that Jesus was referring to natural bread when He spoke about the spiritual leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees and so their understanding was closed to the real truth of the words. If this is the case here also, it shows that their failure to perceive the truth was based more upon their own interpretation of what the words meant than either a direct divine or satanic influence as many commentators suggest.

The rest of the predictions shouldn’t overly concern us at this point in the commentary and I’ll have more to say about them when we reach the relevant texts in question but, so as to provide a full list, they begin with Mtw 20:28 where Jesus speaks of His life as being given as a ransom for many (a veiled explanation of what His death was to accomplish), Mtw 21:38-39 which in parabolic form speaks of His impending death at the hands of the religious leadership who seem to understand its interpretation (Mtw 21:45), Mtw 26:2 which plainly speaks of the time of Jesus’ death as being in two days’ time, Mtw 26:12 where the woman who pours a very expensive bottle of ointment over Jesus is interpreted by Jesus as anointing Him for burial and, finally, the three passages Mtw 26:26-28, 26:31 and 26:51-56 which all occur the night before the crucifixion. The last of these shows us clearly that Peter’s attempt at delivering Jesus from the band of soldiers who had now come to arrest Him (John 18:10) lacked clearly the understanding of what the prophetic utterances had foretold concerning His death.

In summary, we can see that, although it is certain that Jesus already knew that He was shortly to leave the disciples, it wasn’t until immediately prior to His death in Jerusalem that He began to show them what must take place. However, although a literal understanding of His words as meaning His death were initially understood, the disciples suffered from a misinterpretation of His words and so the full truth of what was to take place remained hidden.