Matthew 16(21–28)


The last time we were studying Matthew’s gospel together we read Peter’s confession about the Lord Jesus. The Lord asked: ‘Who do you say that I am?’ And Peter said: ‘You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.’ So, you’re God’s Anointed King, sent to save God’s people; and you’re also the Son of God. Whether or not Peter understood the full implication of what he was saying, his confession was nevertheless spot on, because the Lord Jesus is God’s Anointed King and he’s God’s Only Begotten Son. He is God from God and Light from Light. He is God in the flesh and he came into the world to be the Christ and to save God’s people from our sin and misery and to give us everlasting life in the presence of God.

But how would he save his people? What did he have to do in order to save us from our sin and misery? That’s what the first part of today’s passage is about, because in verses 21 to 23 of today’s passage the Lord speaks about how he had to go to Jerusalem and suffer many things and be killed before being raised on the third day. That what he must do. And then, in the second part of today’s passage, the Lord talks about believers, losing their life in this world, but saving their life in the world to come.

Verses 21 to 23

Turn with me to verses 21 to 23 where Matthew tells us that from that time on, Jesus began to explain to his disciples what he must do. Now that they have confessed that he’s the Christ and the Son of God, he needs to make sure that they understand how he will save God’s people.

Perhaps they thought he would be like King David, who was God’s Anointed King in the past; and he saved God’s people from the Philistines by leading an army and by defeating their enemies in battle. Is that what the Lord Jesus had come to do? Had he come to lead an army? Had he come to fight the Romans? Had he come to kill all his enemies?

No, he hadn’t come to kill, but to be killed. David saved God’s people in the past by killing Goliath and the rest of the Philistines, but the Lord had come to die for us. He had come to lay down his life as the ransom to pay for our sins. He had come to take the blame for us and to save us from the judgment we deserve for all that we have done wrong.

And so, he was going to Jerusalem where he would suffer many things at the hands of the elders and chief priests and teachers of the law. These were the religious leaders in those days and together they formed the Sanhedrin, that religious court which tried the Lord Jesus and judged that he was guilty and deserved to die. And so, after suffering many things at their hands, he would be killed on the cross.

And notice two other things. Matthew says the Lord began to explain this to his disciples. And the word ‘began’ suggests that this was something he began to do and then continued to do. It took time to explain it to them. It took time for them to understand it. They didn’t get it straightaway, and so after he began to explain it to them, he continued to explain it to them so that they would all understand. And no doubt it took time to explain it because this is not what they were expecting the Christ to do.

And then notice that Matthew says that Lord explained to them what he must do. That is, he explained to them what he had to do. He explained to them what was necessary, what had to happen, what must take place. And it had to happen this way because this was God’s will. This is why God the Father sent his Son into the world. This is why he became one of us and was born in Bethlehem all those years ago as a little baby. He came into the world as one of us so that, when the time was right, he would go to Jerusalem where he would suffer many things and by killed. This was God’s will for him. This is what God had decreed for him. This was God’s plan for him. And this was God’s plan for him and these things were necessary, because there was no other way to save us. Since God is just, he could not disregard our sins. Our sins have to be punished. But since God is gracious and merciful, he sent his Son into the world as one of us to take the blame for us and to suffer in our place the punishment we deserve. And so, our sins were punished and God’s justice was satisfied when Christ was punished in our place. That’s why it had to happen. It had to happen in this way because there was no other way for us to be saved. And so, God willed for his Son to suffer and to be killed in our place.

And just as he had to suffer and just as he had to be killed so he also had to be raised to life on the third day, because his resurrection is the proof that he paid for our sins in full and God’s justice has been completely satisfied. Having paid for our sins in full, he could be set free from death. And so, he was raised from the dead to live forever at God’s right hand.

This is what he came to do. But look now at verse 22, where we read that Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. Again the word ‘began’ suggests that Peter didn’t rebuke him once. He began to rebuke him and he carried on rebuking him. And his reaction to what the Lord said shows us that while he now believed that Jesus is the Christ and the Son of the living God, he did not understand what that really meant. He did not understand that being the Christ meant he had to suffer and die for us. And so, he rebuked the Lord and said, ‘Never, Lord!’ No way! Absolutely not! This will never happen to you! It’s out of the question. He thought the Lord was wrong and he was going to put him right.

But, of course, it was Peter who was wrong. And so, the Lord turned to him and told him to get behind him. In other words, get out of my way! I’ve to go to Jerusalem where I will suffer and be killed before being raised. I have to do it, because this is God’s will for me. And so, get out of my way.

And he goes on to refer to Peter as a stumbling block, because he was trying to keep the Lord from doing God’s will. And instead of having in mind the things of God, he had in mind the things of men. It comes naturally to us to want to avoid suffering and pain and danger, but it was God’s will for Christ to endure suffering and pain and danger for us and for our salvation. And though Peter did not realise it, he had in fact become an agent of Satan, which is why the Lord calls him by Satan’s name. He had become an agent of Satan because he was standing in the Saviour’s way and he was tempting the Lord Jesus to disregard the will of God. Don’t listen to God. Listen to me! That has been Satan’s way from the very beginning. And though he did not know it, Peter was now doing Satan’s work for him. Don’t listen to God. Listen to me!

But the Lord would not listen to Peter or the voice of Satan. He had come to do his Father’s will and to go to Jerusalem where he would suffer many things and be killed before rising again. He had to suffer and be killed because this was the Father’s will for him and this was the only way to save us.

Verses 24 to 27

Let’s turn now to the verses 24 to 28 where the Lord talks about believers, losing their life in this world, but saving their life in the world to come.

The Lord refers to ‘anyone’ in verse 24. So, he’s not restricting this saying to the disciples. This is a saying which applies to anyone and everyone who wants to be one of his followers. Anyone who wants to be one of his followers must deny himself and take up his cross and follow the Lord. And then he adds in verse 25 that whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for the Lord Jesus will find it.

Think of those early believers who were told to renounce their faith in Christ: If you renounce your faith in Christ, and no longer live as a Christian, you will be allowed to live. But if you will not deny Christ, then you will be killed. I’ve referred before to Polycarp, who was bishop in Smyrna, and who was brought before the Roman proconsul when the church was being persecuted. The proconsul said to him that he would be released if he was prepared to reproach Christ. But Polycarp refused; and he was burned at the stake. That’s what it was like for believers in the early days of the church. And it’s still like that in places around the world.

And so, one person hears that kind of ultimatum. And in order to save his life he renounces the Lord and agrees not to live as a Christian any longer. He will join in with everyone else and worship false gods. And so, he saves his life in this world. But at what cost? By renouncing Christ, he has turned away from the only one who can give eternal life.

Another person hears that ultimatum and this person refuses to deny the Lord. She’s prepared to give up her life before she will give up her faith. She’s prepared to lose her life, because she knows that though she may lose her life in this world, Christ her Saviour has promised her eternal life in the world to come.

A man may gain the whole world for himself. He might become fabulously wealthy so that he owns houses across the world and can visit them all in his private jet. He has a wonderful life. But what good is it if he loses his soul and in the life to come, he misses out on eternal life? When it comes to the day of judgment, there’s nothing he can give to God in exchange for his soul. God’s not interested in his many homes and his private jet. He can’t do a deal with God and give those things to God in exchange for eternal life. And when the Lord Jesus, the Son of Man, comes in his Father’s glory and with all his angels, he will reward each person according to what he has done. Do you see that in verse 27? However the word translated ‘reward’ should really be translated ‘repay’. He will repay each person according to what he has done. And to those who denied the Lord in order to save their life in this world, he will give eternal punishment. But to those who refused to deny the Lord, and who perhaps lost their life in this world, he will give eternal life.

Sometimes this passage is interpreted to mean that we’re not to live selfish lives. Instead of being self-seeking, we must live for Christ and seek to do his will. And that’s true. We must not live selfish, self-centred lives, but we must live for Christ and for his glory. But this passage is about more than that. It’s about being prepared to lose everything instead of giving up our faith in Christ. Instead of giving up our faith in order to preserve our life, we’re to be prepared to give up our life for the sake of Christ who loved us and who gave up his life for us so that we can have everlasting life in the world to come.

Verse 28

And in the last verse of this passage, the Lord said that some standing there will not taste death before they see the Lord Jesus, the Son of Man, coming in his kingdom. There’s a lot of debate on what the Lord means, because he can’t be referring to his second coming, because everyone who was standing there at that time has died; and Christ has not yet returned. And so, he must be referring to something else which took place when the people standing there were still alive to see it.

There isn’t time now to go into all the arguments, but many commentators believe the Lord was referring to the extension of his kingdom throughout the world after his resurrection and ascension. And so, today’s passage, which began by referring to what he would suffer in Jerusalem, ends with a saying about his future reign and the extension of his kingdom throughout the world. The Lord Jesus, who once suffered and died, now reigns over all. And all who believe in him, and who are willing to suffer with him, will reign with him in the life to come.