Jesus predicts his suffering
Following the declaration of Jesus' true identity, he prepares his disciples for his death and resurrection.
Following the declaration of Jesus' true identity, he prepares his disciples for his death and resurrection.
Hello, and welcome to Series 7 and Episode 2 in which Jesus predicts his suffering. We're studying in Matthew's Gospel and following on from the last episode in Matthew chapter 16. Our text will be Matthew 16: 21 - 28. There are parallel passages in Mark and Luke as well.
Introduction and Recap
Series 7 represents a major change. Series 3, 5 and 6 have described the travelling of Jesus in the three tours of Galilee, as his mission gradually accelerated and gained momentum and popularity throughout the region of Galilee, in the north of Israel. The first tour was Jesus pioneering and becoming established. The second tour involved taking his newly appointed twelve Apostles around with him as his primary disciples and the third tour, which we studied in Series 6, described how the Apostles went off two by two, travelling around, independent of Jesus at times. We saw in Series 6 how the popularity of Jesus grew but also opposition grew. Political opposition from King Herod Antipas could be anticipated after he'd executed John the Baptist and religious opposition from the Sanhedrin in Jerusalem, the religious establishment, and the Pharisees in particular, was well-established and decisive. They were opposing Jesus, fundamentally accusing him of being a false messiah operating through the power of demonic influence. There are quite a few clashes with the Pharisees in Series 6.
Series 7 starts with Jesus travelling towards a city called Caesarea Philippi. He goes by boat to Bethsaida and we saw what happened then. We are now moving on to some predictions that Jesus made after having arrived in Caesarea Philippi with his disciples, when he had a very special conversation with them and in which he asked them to identify his exact identity and then he explained much more about his mission. During the end of Series 6 and the beginning of Series 7, we notice that Jesus is operating outside Galilee. This is very interesting. First, he's in Phoenicia, where he meets the Canaanite woman and heals her daughter. Then, he's in the Decapolis area where he feeds the 4000 and conducts other miracles. Now he's heading to the territory of Herod Philip to the north and the east of the Sea of Galilee and away from the province of Galilee as controlled by King Herod Antipas. He's definitely heading away from Galilee quite deliberately, and on this particular trip is taking his disciples with him and trying to be as anonymous as he can, trying to have a time of privacy. He's gone quite a distance away from the heartland of Galilee, where he was well-known and in the last episode he found a quiet place, somewhere in the region of the town of Caesarea Philippi and he had a very significant discussion with his disciples.
Our study today is following directly on. It's part of the same conversation really, about the nature of Jesus' ministry and what's going to happen next. In order to give a good context of what we're going to discuss today, we're going to read again the conversation between Jesus and the disciples at Caesarea Philippi, at which Peter makes an amazing confession of faith in Jesus and at which Jesus teaches them, fairly clearly, about things that are going to happen in the future and the nature of their authority and message. We're going to read Matthew 16: 13 - 20.
‘When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say the Son of 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 I am?” Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon, son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven. And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock, I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. I will give you the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven. Whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” Then he ordered his disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Messiah.’Matthew 16:13-20, NIV
This conversation, which we looked at in much more detail in the last episode, provides the foundation for the future because Peter's confession is absolutely clear and correct, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” Jesus goes on to explain that he is going to build his Church on the confession that Peter made - the confession: “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” This is the rock, this is the bedrock, or the foundation, of the church. He says to Peter that he will be given keys to the Kingdom of Heaven, keys that will unlock access to the Kingdom of Heaven. Those keys are actually primarily represented by the Gospel message itself and the preaching of the Gospel because it's the preaching of the Gospel that opens the door into the Kingdom of Heaven and ‘looses’ people to enter into the Kingdom of Heaven.
This is a very foundational, private conversation and in this passage, as mentioned very briefly in the last episode, Jesus uses the word ‘Church’, Matthew 16: 18, This is the first time this particular noun in Greek, 'ekklēsía' for Church, is used by Jesus in the Gospels. The word Church becomes a central word in the book of Acts and in the letters that follow but in the Gospels it's a very rarely used word and appears for the first time here in Matthew 16: 18. Jesus is particularly talking about how he's going to build his community of faith, the living community of faith. He's identified the role of Peter and the other Apostles as having keys which open up the door for people to come into that Kingdom and come into that Church community. This is an important message, and of course there's more detail on the exact meaning of different parts of this message, in the last episode, in Episode 1 of Series 7.
The reason I've gone over this again, is that it is very closely connected with the teaching that Jesus brings now because he introduces a theme that has not really been prominently stated up until this point. It becomes much more specific and much more detailed. This is the theme about predicting his suffering because this episode is entitled ‘Jesus predicts his suffering’. We're going to read the passage for today's episode Matthew 16: 21 - 28.
‘From that time on Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, chief priests and the teachers of the law and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life. 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. You are a stumbling block to me. You do not have in mind the concerns of God but merely human concerns.” Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it. What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul? For the Son of Man is going to come in his Father's glory with his angels and then he will reward each person according to what they have done. Truly I tell you, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his Kingdom.”’Matthew 16:21-28, NIV
We have a new emphasis here on discipleship and Jesus is very keen to help his followers to understand that this new Church community, that I've just spoken of, this Church, is not going to be unopposed. There's going to be big challenges ahead for the Church. It's all going to start with an understanding of what is going to happen to Jesus personally. The creative tension of suffering and glory is very clearly present in the Gospels all the way through. In Series 6, the third tour of Galilee, the emphasis has been on the popularity of Jesus, the huge crowds and the intentionality of many people to make Jesus some kind of a political ruler. The success in the power of Jesus seems to be growing but here, Jesus strikes a completely different note. He points out that things are going to turn out very differently in the short term. There's going to be death and resurrection - in complete contrast to the popularity and adulation that he had recently enjoyed in Galilee. Jesus is preparing his disciples for a change of season, if you like, a change of experience of his ministry. He doesn't give them all the details yet but we'll find out in the next episode that the most significant change is they're going to move from Galilee and they're going to travel south on an extended journey, taking quite some time and heading specifically to Jerusalem.
Jesus' specific predictions in verse 21 are: that he must go to Jerusalem; he must suffer many things at the hands of the elders, Chief Priests and Teachers of the Law; that he must be killed; and on the third day be raised again - suffering, death and resurrection. This whole suggestion that Jesus is going to suffer, die and then be raised again, is in complete contrast to the more optimistic expectations of what may happen through Jesus ministry. The disciples, quite clearly, had not understood fully, something as incredibly important to understand about Jesus' ministry. I've mentioned it a number of times in earlier episodes and I'll repeat it again here and will come back to this theme in the future. The coming of the Messiah, as prophesied in the Old Testament, quite evidently has two different dimensions. There is very much a human coming of the Messiah as a servant, as someone who is raising up humanity, bringing salvation, offering God's grace and healing. There is also a picture of the Messiah coming in glory and power, to judge and to rule. The key to unravel these themes is to realise they represent two different events - what we now call the first coming of Jesus and the second coming of Jesus, which is yet to take place.
Old Testament Prophecies
This was not clear to the Jews at the time but let me explain to you the issue by referring to one or two of the key texts. In terms of the first coming of Jesus, one of the most important texts is the book of Isaiah. The book of Isaiah speaks prophetically, on a number of occasions, of a person who Isaiah calls ‘the Servant of the Lord’. In some of his teachings, the servant of the Lord is a representation of the nation of Israel. Israel is God's servant to the whole world but as you read the text in Isaiah closely, you'll see that the servant becomes a person within Israel, a representative of that nation, an individual human being, who becomes the ultimate ‘servant of the Lord’. This servant of the Lord is described in various passages, in Isaiah 42, Isaiah 49, Isaiah 50, and then a longer passage - the end of Isaiah 52, and all of Isaiah 53, and finally, in the first few verses of Isaiah 61. Two out of these prophetic discussions of the individual servant of the Lord (the one in Isaiah 50 and the extended one, Isaiah 52 and 53) speak very specifically about suffering. In Isaiah 53, not just suffering but death, and not just death but resurrection. Behind the teaching of Jesus in Matthew 16, as he's talking to his disciples, is a concept of the Messiah that is drawn prophetically from texts like Isaiah 52 and 53. There are other passages in the Old Testament that speak similarly of God's servant suffering, notably Psalm 22.
Let's turn for a moment to Isaiah 53 because what I'm doing at this point is, I'm taking a step back from the text and trying to explain what lies behind Jesus' very clear teaching, in terms of the Jewish Scriptures, the Old Testament or the Hebrew Scriptures. Obviously, Jesus understood his identity and calling and destiny, from the fact that he was the Son of God. He had this information and this understanding of what he was going to do but access to this could be made by the disciples through a study of some of the prophecies of the Old Testament. I want to touch on a few verses in Isaiah 53. At the beginning of Isaiah 53,
“Who has believed our message and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed? He grew up before him like a tender shoot, like a root out of dry ground. He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected by mankind, a man of suffering and familiar with pain. Like one from whom people hide their faces, he was despised and we held him in low esteem. Surely, he took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered him punished by God, stricken by him and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed. We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.”Isaiah 53:1-6, NIV
Isaiah is describing this person ‘the Servant of the Lord’. Isaiah 52: 13 describes the identity of the person being prophesied about. “See my servant will act wisely;” - the servant of the Lord. This passage in Isaiah 53, speaks of the Servant of the Lord suffering and dying and appearing to be punished by God - ‘he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities’ ‘and by his wounds we are healed’. There's an atonement going on here. This death is on our behalf, according to this passage, ‘the Lord has laid on him the iniquity (or the sin) of us all.’ (the end of verse 6.) This particular passage and others like it (but this is the most focused and clear) tell us that the Servant of the Lord, in his first coming, is going to suffer and die and tell us that it's going to be an atoning death. It's going to be taking the price of sin on behalf of someone else.
This is what Jesus had in mind when he spoke to his disciples and he warned them that when he went to Jerusalem he would suffer and he would actually die. As we move on in Isaiah 53, we see that, after his suffering, he is going to be raised again from the dead, verse 11 onwards.
‘After he has suffered, he will see the light of life and be satisfied; by his knowledge my righteous servant will justify many, and he will bear their iniquities. Therefore, I will give him a portion among the great, and he will divide the spoils with the strong, because he poured out his life unto death, and was numbered with the transgressors. For he bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.’Isaiah 53:11-12, NIV
‘He will see the light of life and be satisfied’ - a reference to the resurrection. These are the types of passage that Jesus would have in mind when he was teaching his disciples, here in Matthew 16, telling them about suffering and death and resurrection. As they had further discussions, which are not recorded here, I'm sure that Jesus would have gone through these types of Scriptures. Isaiah 53, interestingly enough, is quoted numerous times in the New Testament as being fulfilled by Christ.
Peter took offence. He was going to have none of this. This is Peter, the one who just issued the most amazing statement. He knew exactly who Jesus was, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” He got that absolutely right but then he got his response to this message absolutely wrong. He said, “Never Lord,” “This shall never happen to you.” He couldn't imagine how the Messiah would have to die. Jesus rebukes him directly, “Get behind me Satan.” He's saying that Peter is issuing words that Satan would speak, if he was actually there. “You are a stumbling block” “You do not have in mind the concerns of God but merely human concerns.” Peter was concerned about comfort, about Jesus' well-being, about his own well-being, about the well-being of the disciples. He couldn't possibly imagine Jesus dying. He was thinking in human terms, not in terms of the overall plan of God.
What was the plan of God? That Jesus' death was going to be an atoning sacrifice. It was going to be the means of salvation, Jesus taking on himself the sins of other people, so that they could be free of sin when they believed in him. The death of Jesus is absolutely central to his mission. It's prophesied in the Old Testament. Jesus prepared for it very directly. He knew he had to prepare his disciples for understanding this process, so that they could cope with it when they went through the experience of seeing him die and then rising again from the dead. You see, discipleship means taking up your cross, means coming alongside Jesus who is going to suffer. Anyone who wants to follow Jesus must take up their cross and follow him. This is a metaphorical use of the expression ‘the cross’. The cross, of course, is the instrument of execution for the Romans. Jesus is basically saying, you need to give up rights over your own life, just as someone has to when they're being executed by the Romans. You can't save your life. You've got to give it away. You've got to give it in the service of Jesus and trust him for the outcome. Verses 27 and 28,
‘For the Son of Man is going to come in the Father's glory with his angels. Then he will reward each person according to what they have done.’Matthew 16:27, NIV
This is a reference to the Second Coming. I spoke about the first coming, but of course we mustn't forget that the two events are intrinsically linked. The first coming doesn't make full sense unless we believe in the Second Coming. Jesus said “Don't worry. I am going to come back again - in glory.” ‘In his Father's glory with his angels.’ That's a statement about power and authority and majesty and divinity and judgement and vindication. He'll reward each person according to what they've done. Judgement will come. Those who followed Christ would be rewarded. Those who resisted him will be judged.
Then he concludes,
“Truly I tell you, some of you, who are standing here, will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his Kingdom.”Matthew 16:28, NIV
This is him coming in his Kingdom, as opposed to coming in his Father's glory with his angels. This expression ‘the coming of the Son of Man’ is a slightly flexible expression in the Gospels and can refer to different events. In Matthew 10:23 it probably refers to him coming in judgement when Jerusalem (and Israel) is judged in A.D. 70. Here, in Matthew 16:28, it probably refers to the coming of the Holy Spirit in power on the day of Pentecost and all the consequences that came. The Kingdom is coming, with the Spirit empowering the Apostles and the Early Church. In a sense, the Son of Man comes as the Spirit comes. It's a representation of his power and his authority. They're not going to taste death before they see that power being made known and they're going to experience the advance of the Kingdom through the outpouring of the Holy Spirit.
This is a challenging passage; challenging to understand and challenging to apply. It's the first clear teaching about Jesus' mission to suffer, die and to rise again. We're beginning to get a clear picture of what Jesus knows is going to happen. He's preparing his disciples for this event. My reflection here is that there's a great paradox in this passage. There's a paradox of Peter. How could Peter get it so wrong here, when he'd been so accurate and so clear a few moments earlier in that earlier incident (as recorded in the last episode) when he had correctly identified Jesus as the Messiah, the Son of the living God? Peter is a paradox like you and me. Sometimes we really get things right. Sometimes we really get things wrong. Do you know that experience? Well, even Peter, the leading Apostle in the Early Church, made some terrible mistakes and got some things terribly wrong. Jesus put him in his place and Peter learned his lesson and eventually he was an extremely effective leader of the Early Church.
We, like the early disciples, have to prepare for the fact that, in this life, being a Christian is a matter of denying yourself, giving up the rights over your whole life, and allowing God to use your life for what he wants it for. That's a clear decision. We invest our lives; we give up our lives; we sacrifice ourselves for his cause and for the well-being of other people. That can be really tough. What makes us do this, is our certainty. Verse 27.
‘The Son of Man is going to come in his Father's glory with his angels. And then he will reward each person according to what they have done.’Matthew 16:27, NIV
The first coming and our lives now, don't make any sense without the Second Coming where the rewards come, vindication comes and the Kingdom comes in full power. We await that day. “Your kingdom come; your will be done on earth as it is done in heaven” so we are called to pray in the Lord's prayer. That is expressed beautifully here, in Jesus' explanation of first coming, his death, his resurrection, living as disciples and then his Second Coming in his Father's glory. Thanks for reading.
The following questions have been provided to facilitate discussion or further reflection. Please feel free to answer any, or all the questions. Each question has been assigned a category to help guide you.
- Do you focus on the present, rather than eternity?
- Do you identify with Peter who sometimes got things wrong and yet at others, so right?
- What do you understand about the need for self-denial? Give examples.
- How do you understand living between the two comings of Christ? Does it help you?